A top official from the World Trade Organisation admitted Wednesday that efforts to conclude the long-awaited Doha free trade deal look doomed until the global economy picks up.
Negotiations on the accord stalled again last December after being launched in the Qatari capital a decade earlier, as rich and emerging nations failed to bridge gaps over the level of cuts to industrial goods tariffs and farm subsidies.
"There can be a situation at some point when world economies may pick up and it becomes more conducive to conclude a deal," said WTO deputy director general Harsha Singh in New Delhi.
He added that global weakness is not the sole problem holding up a deal, citing differences not only over agricultural subsidies but across the broad scope of the Doha agenda.
Neither the bigger economies nor the smaller economies have so far been able to reach agreement on what concessions they should make under Doha, he told a business audience.
More countries are now focusing their energies on sealing smaller bilateral and regional agreements, he said.
"The (Doha) problems have to be resolved bit by bit. Let us try and achieve whatever we can, whenever we can," Singh said.
US trade chief Ron Kirk said earlier this year it was impossible to sell free trade to Americans in the current economic climate, as an increasing number of Americans "believe that we have swapped jobs for cheaper T-shirts and iPads".
Singh said it was vital to preserve the rule-based WTO, which will gain its 156th member when Russia becomes the last major global economy to sign up.
The WTO gives "predictability in the (trading) system and a level playing field", he said.
The Doha round of global trade talks began in 2001 with a focus on dismantling obstacles to trade for poor nations.
But negotiations were dogged by disagreement, including how much the United States and the European Union should reduce farm aid and the extent to which emerging market giants such as India and China should cut tariffs on industrial products.