Trade talks need balanced inputs

Business Times, Malaysia

Trade talks need balanced inputs

By Rupa Damodaran

16 March 2011

The fate of the multilateral Doha Round talks to come up with an outline agreement for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by July rests in the hands of both developed and developing economies, said European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

"If you want to have a result in July, inputs need to come not only from the developed world but also developing countries," De Gucht said.

Now in its 10th year, the final stages of the Doha Development Round of trade negotiations look to pose a make-or-break moment as the key players realise more than ever the need to conclude the negotiations.

"But whether this urge to conclude is equally translated into a genuine sense of urgency that can make a final deal possible (within the time limits) is not so sure," he said during a presentation in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The European Union (EU), he said, was doing its best to get a deal and had pushed for dynamism into the negotiations with the support of the other trade ministers from Brazil, US, China, India, Japan and Australia on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos recently.

"We should try hard to see it through but on the other hand we should also realise that these are difficult negotiations. Since its launch in Doha in 2001, the world has changed dramatically with major emerging economies coming to the fore."

In cases of countries like China, which considers itself a developing economy and still faced with poverty issues, they are also competitors on the economic scene and that make it difficult for discussions.

Saying this opportunity should not be allowed to slip, he said it was important for all to keep the eyes on the prize - the importance of international trade and a global trade deal for developing economies.

De Gucht welcomed Malaysia’s active role in these discussions, especially in the negotiations on industrial products (Nama).

Asked whether the EU itself has lost faith and hope in a multilateral regime like WTO, preferring to chose bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) of late, De Gucht said it has not lost its faith in the WTO and that there was no alternative plan.

"Instead, we have two alleys - one for the Doha Round and another for bilateral and regional FTA. The agreements are deep and do not apply for goods only but also services and procurement.

"They are complementary to the Doha Round as these are topics which will not be decided in the Doha Round at this point."

An FTA with South Korea is in place while negotiations with Singapore and Malaysia are underway. The EU also hopes to commence negotiations with Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

De Gucht said one of the most important factors in favour of the Doha Round is that the parties concerned should keep the World Trade Organisation intact and strengthen it as it is also a mechanism for settling disputes.