United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon called on Monday for redoubling efforts to rescue five-year-old world trade talks and warned that failure could harm poor nations as well as multilateral free trade.
His comments came after the head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Pascal Lamy warned in Washington that chances for a deal in the talks could slip away unless clear progress is made in the coming weeks.
"Everyone must redouble their efforts in the coming months to ensure success," Ban told the Seventh International Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade in the Qatari capital, Doha.
"Should this round of trade talks fail, serious damage will be done to those who can least afford it, to the multilateral trading system, and to multilateralism itself," he added, according to a text of the speech obtained by Reuters.
The talks on the Doha round of talks, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, have stalled mainly on agriculture but developed and developing countries are also a long way apart on cutting import tariffs for industrial goods.
A WTO deal could give the world economy a boost and lift millions out of poverty through trade.
In a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Lamy said the world community was watching the United States for signs of its continued commitment to the Doha round of world trade talks.
"If WTO members do not energise the negotiations soon, governments will be forced to confront the unpleasant reality of failure," Lamy said.
The European Union's trade chief, Peter Mandelson, said last week top negotiators from world trade powers are scheduled to meet three times in the next two months as they intensify search for a breakthrough in the global negotiations.
Ministers from the so-called G4 group -- the European Union, the United States, Brazil and India -- last week set themselves a target of wrapping up the Doha round by the end of this year.
To meet that schedule, and avoid what could be a further delay of several years given the U.S. presidential elections in 2008 and other factors, the G4 needs to find a breakthrough around the end of June, trade specialists have said.
Ban said the positive relationship between free trade and development was well-established.
"With the ease of travel, shipping, and communications that our modern world provides, the benefits of trade have become more evident than ever. That is why it is so essential that there be a successful conclusion to the Doha round of trade talks," he told the meeting.