International Herald Tribune
Australian trade minister argues in favor of free trade agreements in lieu of WTO deal
The Associated Press
21 April 2007
BOAO, China: Countries will continue to negotiate their own free trade agreements in the absence of a WTO deal, but those bilateral arrangements could actually help the chances for a global trade pact, Australia’s trade minister said Saturday.
Speaking at a regional economic forum in southern China, Warren Truss appeared to shrug off the global trade body’s concerns that bilateral trade agreements could undermine the chances of an agreement in the World Trade Organization’s long-stalled Doha Round of talks.
"Countries see the benefits of trade agreements and don’t want to be standing still," Truss said in a panel discussion at the Boao Forum for Asia. Such agreements, if successful, could serve as "bricks for building" an overall WTO deal, he said. The WTO has argued against free trade agreements, saying they discriminate against other economies.
While Australia, a major exporter of farm goods, has been pushing for the Doha Round talks to resume, it has also been among the most active in forming FTA’s, with agreements in place with the United States, Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand and negotiations underway with Japan, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Chile, China and Malaysia.
The WTO, however, aims to forge a global trade treaty among its 149 members - an endeavor that collapsed in July over disagreements between rich and poor nations, particularly over lowering barriers to farm trade.