Global business group prods WTO to reach customs deal this year

Wed Apr 17, 2013 3:10pm EDT
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By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An international business group is urging World Trade Organization members to strike a deal to simplify global customs procedures at a trade ministers meeting in Bali in December to prove the WTO is still a force for trade liberalization.

"We think it's important, indeed indispensable, for the WTO to come out of Bali with something that the world will see as a positive result," said Jim Bacchus, a former WTO appellate body judge who now chairs the global investment and trade committee of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

The group, which has members in more than 120 countries, will formally release its recommendations for a Bali package at its meeting next week in Doha, Qatar, where the unsuccessful Doha round of world trade talks was launched in late 2001.

It wants the WTO to wrap up the Doha round, even with a vastly scaled-down package, so that members of the world trade body can move on to new agenda of negotiations in areas such as services and green technology.

A study done for the ICC by the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated a WTO "trade facilitation" package to simplify customs and other procedures for handling goods at the border could boost world exports by more than $1 trillion, including $570 billion for developing countries and $475 billion for developed countries.

The reforms also could increase global economic output by $960 billion and create about 21 million jobs, most of those in developing countries, the Washington-based think tank said.

While the Doha round has faltered, the United States, the European Union and more recently Japan have looked increasingly to regional trade agreements to create new export opportunities.

Michael Punke, the U.S. ambassador to the WTO, warned last week that the WTO's negotiating function was "hurtling toward irrelevance" because of sharp differences that have kept members from reaching a deal.   Continued...

The World Trade Organization WTO logo is seen at the entrance of the WTO headquarters in Geneva April 9, 2013. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich