U.S. warns WTO global trade talks "hurtling towards irrelevance"

Thu Apr 11, 2013 12:23pm EDT
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By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States launched a blistering attack on fellow World Trade Organization member states on Thursday for failing to do more to cut global barriers to trade, criticizing India in particular for trying to introduce a "massive new loophole".

"The time has come to speak bluntly," U.S. ambassador Michael Punke told his counterparts at the Geneva-based body. "We must not sit idly by as the WTO's negotiating function hurtles towards irrelevance."

Ambassadors to the 159-member WTO were meeting to review progress towards a possible deal to be signed in Bali in December, which would cut red tape from customs procedures, adding as much as $1 trillion to global trade.

At the insistence of developing countries who objected to having to shoulder most of the burden of the red-tape reforms, a Bali agreement would also include limited reforms to rules on food and agriculture and special treatment for poor countries.

While such a deal would be a boost for the world economy, the scale of the negotiation has been massively cut back from the far more ambitious "Doha Round" of trade talks, which dragged on for a decade before finally collapsing in 2011.

"The glint of hope today is that we still have time - though only just barely - to adjust our course. The institution we care about is in crisis, and we need to act accordingly," Punke said.

"While it is not my intention to throw bricks, I will be frank in our substantive assessment of where various issues stand," he said, adding that the mood had changed from hopeful to grim over the past three months.

He called on all WTO ambassadors to seek urgent instructions from governments to try to re-energize the negotiations before the end of April.   Continued...

The World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters is pictured in Geneva April 10, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse