Monday, November 30, 2009

WTO urged to speed up key trade negotiations

GENEVA: European businesses, growing frustrated at slow progress in the World Trade Organisation's Doha round, yesterday called for the WTO to speed up negotiations.

The WTO is holding a ministerial conference from tomorrow until 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 precise benefits of a Doha deal but political leaders and the WTO believe it 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.

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 per cent complete. But mindful of previous WTO conferences that broke up in acrimony, he wants to avoid submitting an incomplete proposal to ministers.

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.

Poverty action group Oxfam said completing the Doha round would not solve all development challenges but would at least remove some of the worst trade distortions.

"The very fact that the Doha round is not even on the agenda of this week's Ministerial shows that the round is moribund," said Oxfam International representative Celine Charveriat.

Meanwhile, more than 3,000 demonstrators protested in Geneva on Saturday at WTO policies that they say promote poverty, but the march was called off after some 200 protesters rampaged through the city centre smashing windows and setting fire to cars.

Source : Gulf Daily News

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