By Jonathan Lynn
GENEVA (Reuters) - European businesses, growing frustrated at slow progress in the World Trade Organization's Doha round, called on Sunday for the WTO to tackle the negotiation at next week's conference.
The WTO is holding a ministerial conference from Monday to Wednesday, but negotiations on Doha, launched eight years ago to open markets and help developing countries grow through trade, are off the agenda.
Instead ministers will review the WTO's work and its contribution to economic recovery and tackling problems such as climate change. Doha is likely to be discussed on the sidelines.
Economists argue about the precise benefits of a Doha deal but political leaders and the WTO believe a deal would boost business confidence by removing uncertainty from the world economy.
"At some point of time all WTO members will have to make up their minds on the conclusion of the round," said Carsten Dannoehl, senior adviser for international relations at BusinessEurope, the EU business lobby.
"What could be a better moment than a WTO Ministerial Meeting that gathers the whole membership?" he told Reuters.
BusinessEurope is expected to issue a call during the conference for the WTO's 153 members to focus on concluding a Doha deal, which would cut industrial and agricultural tariffs, slash farm subsidies and open up trade in services.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy says a Doha agreement is 80 percent complete. But mindful of previous WTO conferences that broke up in acrimony because of differences over trade opening, he wants to avoid submitting an incomplete proposal to ministers.
"Of course there will be a discussion, but what there will not be is a ministerial decision on options, texts, which are on the table... It simply is not ripe for this kind of thing," he told reporters on Thursday.
Political leaders have called on WTO members to reach a Doha agreement in 2010, but Lamy has said negotiations will have to speed up to meet that new deadline. Members will take stock and decide whether 2010 is realistic early next year.
U.S. businesses are also frustrated at the lack of progress.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest American business lobby, believes a deal can only be done when businesses are so convinced of its benefits that they start pushing politicians to agree it, said Christopher Wenk, the chamber's senior director for international policy.
"And where things stand today in Doha, it is difficult to imagine companies actively going up to -- in our case -- Capitol Hill and actively lobbying Congress to pass what's on the table," he told reporters last month.
(Editing by Stephanie Nebehay)