January 31, 2013
By JOHN HEILPRIN Associated Press
Indonesia may hold the key to a $1 trillion injection into the global economy.
That’s how much the World Trade Organization believes is riding on talks later this year in Bali, when trade ministers hope to cut through some of the red tape that slows global commerce.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told The Associated Press that failure is not an option and that a strong effort is being put in to ensure that the WTO meeting in Bali is “crowned with success.”
The current trade talks, known as the Doha Round, began in 2001, and after a decade of little progress for a range of reasons, many had pronounced the negotiations to reduce global trade barriers as dead.
There are hopes that the current fragile state of the world economy, including the debt crisis afflicting the 17 European Union countries that use the euro and unspectacular U.S. growth, may add impetus to the discussions.
“It’s very critical now, especially with the difficulties in the global economy, especially in the eurozone,” he said of efforts to reach a new global free trade pact. “Trade facilitation becomes a key driver for economic recovery, so this is now even ever more important to what it was before.”
Trade ministers from 24 nations met January 26 on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos in an unofficial gathering hosted by the Swiss government.
Afterward, Swiss Economic Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said the group agreed they could reach a tentative agreement on some of the key elements of a global trade deal this summer, in preparation for the ministerial talks in December at Bali.
Schneider-Ammann said he sensed some “optimism” that efforts to streamline customs procedures and other rules to reduce the costs of trade “will be successful.”
The ministers agreed to resist protectionism, focus on elements such as trade facilitation and agriculture, and to “take stock” around Easter of the progress being made, Schneider-Ammann said.
“Serious attempts to deliver results in Bali have already started,” he added.
The Doha negotiations have been billed as a way of boosting economic development among the poorest countries, by reducing barriers on their exports to wealthier markets.
The WTO’s director general, Pascal Lamy, has been telling the Davos gathering of political, business and academic elites that an international trade deal would provide a $1 trillion boost to the global economy. He estimates world trade is worth about $22 trillion.
Flanked by Schneider-Ammann, Lamy told reporters that he believes it is technically “do-able” to craft draft agreements on some of the key elements of a deal by next summer.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said he had to “temper” his enthusiasm for a deal since it has eluded the world for a decade.
Areas of dispute include tariffs on manufactured good, agricultural subsidies, market access and intellectual property rules. Brazil, China and India have resisted U.S. demands to lower taxes on imports of manufactured goods.
“But, at least of the 24 countries represented today, it felt like we had made more substantive progress,” Kirk said in an AP interview. “The good news is we’ve spent a lot of work on a smaller, more realistic package centered around trade facilitation, which can be a huge benefit to developing economies. And it feels like that is starting to bear fruit.”
Kirk, who leaves his job next month, said the ministers renewed their commitment “to double down, do what we need to do” to reach a deal in Bali. “I’m as hopeful as I’ve been in a long time.”