GENEVA — World Bank chief Robert Zoellick attacked plans on Monday to accept a watered down World Trade Organization free trade deal in place of an overall accord, saying this was defeatist.
"The fate and state of the Doha Round is deeply disappointing," Zoellick said on the opening day of a WTO review conference.
"If leading negotiators think small, they will act small and they (will) miss big opportunities. Dumbing down Doha is defeatist.
"A mini-deal won't do much for growth and it will leave the WTO behind the big changes that we're touching on today," Zoellick said.
Launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, the Doha Round of negotiations for a global free trade deal has stalled amid disagreements between developed and developing countries over proposed tariff cuts on industrial goods and subsidy reductions in the farm sector.
Member states are now considering a mini-deal on areas specific to the poorest states by December but Zoellick believes that negotiators should still aim for the bigger goal.
"I urge the WTO ... to think big again. Otherwise, the trade agenda will switch elsewhere," he warned.
In particular, Zoellick called for US leadership in getting a deal.
"In my view, it would be good if a key developed country could or would lead," noted the former US trade chief.
The United States could make concessions, Zoellick pointed out, since it is "going to be cutting its agriculture subsidies as part of" current talks in Washington on the public finances.
US farm subsidies are among key sticking points holding up a Doha deal.
Zoellick, who was the US's chief trade negotiator under George W Bush, told reporters in Geneva: "I think the facts speak for themselves on whether you have excuses or leadership."
The Doha development round of negotiations was launched in the Qatari capital in November 2001 with the intention of spreading the benefits of free trade from rich western countries to poorer nations of Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia. But attempts to open up markets in the manufacturing, agricultural and service sectors have foundered as a result of disagreements between the round's five big players: the United States, the European Union, India, Brazil and China.
Pascal Lamy, the WTO's director general, is resigned to the US continuing to adopt a hardline stance until after Obama has sought re-election in November 2012, but has floated the possibility of a so-called "Doha light" that would salvage some parts of the negotiations, including a package for developing countries.
"The mini-deal will probably be about as hard as the big deal," Zoellick warned at the launch of a programme in Geneva designed to disseminate data on trade.
Privately, many trade negotiators agree with the assessment of the World Bank chief that it will be hard to get the US to agree even to a slimmed-down Doha round, since it would leave Washington with nothing to show for 10 years of talks. Zoellick said that rather than settle for a more modest agreement, the 150-plus WTO members should aim for more. "I urge the WTO members to get bolder: double down on Doha." If countries were ambitious but failed, it would be easier to apportion blame, he said.
The World Bank chief predicted that only a push by political leaders would end what he called a "death watch" on Doha.
"The world needs a global growth strategy and opening trade drives growth," said Zoellick. "We've seen it with proven effectiveness all throughout the past 60 or 70 years."