World Trade Organisation Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi has asked member countries to work out the broad outline of the negotiating framework by May so that the details could be worked out by July to put the stalled trade talks back on track.
"The risk is not just of wasting this year but also possibly a good part of next year as well, bearing in mind other events which will be occurring around the world and in the WTO. It could indeed be difficult to get the round going again for quite a long time without a solid platform achieved now in terms of framework agreements," Panitchpakdi said at the trade negotiations committee meeting earlier this week.
"We should not be under any illusions about the scale and urgency of our task. We are talking about this window of opportunity that is now still open but I do not think you need to be reminded that this window of opportunity is narrow. The window is open but it is narrow and is closing quite rapidly. It is not going to be wide open forever. I believe that we if we want to finish our tasks before the summer break, we really cannot lose any time at all before the target date," he added.
WTO members have missed deadlines in fixing the modalities for negotiations, which will be followed by detailed discussions for the trade liberalisation programme.
The deadline for completion of current round of negotiations had been fixed for December this year, but under the present circumstances, trade negotiators said, there was little chance of an agreement.
Supachai also said in the recent months there were several positive developments indicating that the framework for negotiations would be fixed by the new deadline in July.
He said WTO members were willing to negotiate on the substance and not procedure and a number of countries were changing the way they perceived their positions.
"They are now not only spending time working on their own position, but also finding out what other positions are and how to accommodate and address them," the WTO chief added.
Meanwhile, Nepal has become the 147th member of the WTO and another 24 countries are in the queue to become members of the multilateral body.
""On 24 March 2004 the Government of the Kingdom of Nepal notified the WTO that the process of ratification and acceptance of the Protocol of Accession had been completed in Parliament. According to established practice, the entry into force of the Protocol occurred 30 days later -- on April 23, 2004," a WTO press release said.
Nepal started its accession negotiations in 1989 and its accession package was approved at the Cancun ministerial meeting.
The list of countries with which negotiations are currently underway include the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Belarus, Ukraine, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Seychelles, Tonga, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Andorra, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Samoa, Lebanese Republic, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bhutan, Cape Verde, Yemen, Serbia and Montenegro, Bahamas, Tajikistan and Ethiopia.
Vanuatu has completed the negotiations while Cambodia completed negotiations in 2003 but the process of ratification in Parliament is still pending.