Regional pacts must not sap Doha talks: WTO chief

By Yoko Kubota

SAPPORO, Japan (BestGrowthStock) – Regional trade negotiations are a good idea so long as they do not sap energy from the main Doha round of world trade talks, the World Trade Organisation’s head said on Saturday.

Regional trade deals are gaining impetus while the WTO’s Doha round has stalled. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said he was monitoring the progress of regional deals to make sure there was political momentum left for Doha.

“As long as it doesn’t divert political energy, it’s fine,” he told Reuters when asked about the Asia-Pacific trade pacts.

“But this is something which we need to watch. The capacity of people to negotiate is not unlimited — there is a capacity problem,” Lamy said on the sidelines of a meeting of trade ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Japan.

“I am concerned. I am watching this carefully because we know that we need a quantum of political energy in these trade issues and we need a large part of that to conclude the round.”

The Doha round was launched in 2001 to correct some of the imbalances in the global trading system and help poor countries prosper through trade.

Under a current draft deal, rich countries would lift barriers to their food markets and cut trade-distorting farm subsidies while developing countries, excluding the poorest, would open their markets to more products and services.

However, agreement on an overall package has proved elusive, with the United States arguing that big emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India should do more to facilitate a deal.

Trade ministers of the 21-member APEC group, meeting in northern Japan, discussed the goals of regional trade as well as the stalled Doha discussions.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama said there was a sense of urgency to push forward the Doha negotiations.

However, Michael Punke, the U.S. representative at the WTO, said he did not sense a substantive move.

“I think there’s still some question about whether there is a willingness on a part of all parties to engage in negotiations,” he told Reuters. “The bottom line is that there is a lot of hard work ahead of us.”

The WTO has forecast world trade will expand by 9.5 percent this year after falling by 12.2 percent in 2009.

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(editing by Andrew Dobbie)

Regional pacts must not sap Doha talks: WTO chief