Davos optimists see a new era of trade reform at hand

Fri Jan 22, 2016 2:15pm EST
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By Martinne Geller and Tom Miles

DAVOS/GENEVA (Reuters) - A rare note of optimism at Davos this year comes from the trade ministers, who will gather on Saturday for the first time since the World Trade Organization (WTO) closed the lid on 14 years of increasingly toxic stalemate.

About 30 governments will be represented, forming a potential coalition willing to forge new WTO deals and move on from deadlocked talks that grew from a meeting in Doha in 2001.

The WTO's 162 members, meeting last month in Nairobi, agreed to disagree about the Doha round, effectively giving license to any country that wants to get the ball rolling on new reforms.

"That negotiation was an intense process, but the results provide an excellent base for future work," European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom wrote in an op-ed published by Politico this week. "It allows us to start reflecting on new issues for the future in a positive, forward-looking spirit."

The Doha round originally aimed to bolster developing countries, but the economic rise of China, India and Brazil, and the deepening negotiating quagmire led to Washington and Brussels losing interest and all but giving up on meeting the demands of Beijing and New Delhi.

None of the "BRIC" economies' trade ministers will take part in Saturday's meeting, which is to be hosted by Switzerland.

In the end, the Doha round went out with a whimper rather than a bang, the WTO acknowledging "different views on how to address the negotiations".

That admission turned the tables on India and others who hoped to veto any move away from Doha, and gave the advantage to the U.S.-led camp who favor new avenues of trade reform.   Continued...

World Bank group senior official Anabel Gonzalez passes by a logo of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the congress centre during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland January 20, 2016.  REUTERS/Ruben Sprich