Although Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), declared himself satisfied with the proposals made on February 8, 2008 by Crawford Falconer for agriculture and by Don Stephenson for industrial products, the two negotiating group chairs have remained quite reserved, avoiding addressing the most sensitive issues.
Falconer indicated that "there are no big surprises and no new numbers compared to the proposals from six months ago, but the text is more complete," particularly on the subject of sensitive and special products. Nonetheless, experts note that "the big decisions are still to come." Both delegations are still standing firm on their positions.
As discussions picked back up again, the recent comments by Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner, sowed some doubt as to the future of the negotiations. Indeed, he caused some discomfort when, during a public debate with his counterparts and Pascal Lamy at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he made reference to potentially "burying" the Doha Round.
Along these lines, representatives of European business interests reportedly suggested to him, "If you realize over the course of the year that the [Doha] round is not going to succeed, then don't let it suffer; bury it properly and extract the useful parts of it that have already been negotiated."
Peter Mandelson also shared his doubts over the possibility of reopening negotiations after the American elections in November 2008, expecting instead that by that point, a flurry of bilateral agreements will have put the Doha Round definitively out of commission. Crawford Falconer insisted that from now on, negotiations must focus more on horizontal bargaining between the agriculture and industrial products segments. It seems that the debates over the next few months should be particularly animated.