Trade ministers say running against time to save global WTO talks


WTO countries have until the end of July to revive moribund global free trade talks in time for a meeting scheduled for December in Bali, top trade officials and ministers said on Thursday, and warned of long-term damage if they fail.

Hopes among diplomats at the World Trade Organization about reaching a deal at the Indonesian resort have been fading.

Ministers of the main trading powers meeting in Paris said that real progress on technical issues holding up the talks would have to be made by the end of July for the Bali talks to have any chance. Some 500 points up for negotiation needed to be whittled down drastically by then, they said.

“We will know by then whether Bali is feasible,” Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson told reporters. “If there is only moderate progress between now and July then time will have beaten us.”

Success at Bali is widely seen as the key to unlocking the stalemate that has all but killed the Doha round of trade talks, which collapsed in 2008 and was effectively abandoned at the end of 2011.

“There was unanimity around the table that failure in Bali would have long-lasting, damaging effects on the WTO,” its head Pascal Lamy said after the annual meeting.

Among the technical points are setting a new standard for customs procedures and red tape, which could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy and is known in WTO jargon as trade facilitation.

“We are outside of the comfort zone and we need to get back inside the comfort zone,” Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said. He said all countries had to show flexibility.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)


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