GENEVA, (Reuters) – The global trading system has survived the economic crisis well on the whole, but a Doha Round agreement is needed to protect it from future shocks, the head of the World Trade Organisation said on Monday.
Addressing a symposium on the sidelines of a WTO ministerial meeting in Geneva, Director-General Pascal Lamy urged his organisation’s 153 members to speed up their negotiations in the Doha Round, already in its ninth year.
“Given the present pace, if they want to get there in ’10, we will need an acceleration,” Lamy said. “How we organise this acceleration is probably Number 1 on the to-do list after the ministerial conference.”
Doha accord negotiations are not formally on the agenda of the conference that starts on Monday afternoon, because Lamy and government officials believe the talks are not ready for a high-end push towards an agreement. But the state of the Round — launched in November 2001 to open markets and help developing countries grow through more trade — loomed large over the Geneva gathering.
Developing countries issued a declaration saying that rich nations needed to show leadership to advance the negotiations, and a group of food-exporting nations said it was “disappointed with the limited progress in resolving or narrowing differences” in recent months.
“All members need to engage substantively in a transparent and inclusive manner if we are to bridge the gaps and successfully conclude the Round in 2010,” said the Cairns Group, a coalition including Australia, Indonesia, Argentina and Peru.
Developing countries also called on Sunday for an agreement that would focus on removing distortions in trade in food that hurt farmers in poor countries, for instance by cutting farm subsidies paid by rich countries.
Lamy said a deal would not be possible until all members were sure they were in an “end-game” where they could finally put their cards on the table.
The slow pace of negotiations and the many missed deadlines have created frustration and scepticism among members. Previous efforts to rush the deal to signature have stumbled over the technical details of sensitive issues such as how to safeguard farmers in poor countries from sudden price swings.
Public resistance has also rebounded against the WTO in the wake of the sharp global downturn, which many have attributed to a lack of oversight and regulation in financial services.
An anti-WTO demonstration in Geneva on Saturday — close to the 10th anniversary of a Seattle WTO ministerial marked by serious riots — turned violent, with protesters smashing the windows of banks, shops and hotels and setting cars on fire.
Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu told a news conference she had attended the 1999 ministerial, representing a non-governmental organisation, and felt there had been major progress in international trade relations since then. “I think we have come a long way from Seattle, even though we still have demonstrations out there,” she said. Cold rainy weather and several layers of police barricades kept protesters away from the Geneva conference venue on Monday morning.
Lamy said that during this week’s ministerial, officials would look at ways to improve the enforcement of rules and methods of notifying the WTO of trade measures.
Looking beyond Doha, the WTO needs to assess issues from climate change and energy to regional trade deals, and ensuring existing rules are adapted to changing situations, Lamy said.
Once the complex Doha negotiations — covering 20 different areas — are over, the WTO should consider whether the best way to open trade is through further all-embracing rounds, or talks on individual issues, he said.