DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Global business leaders appealed to governments on Thursday to make good on their commitment to conclude stalled trade liberalization talks this year and boost a world economic recovery.
But trade negotiators were skeptical of the political will to overcome disputes between the United States and key emerging nations that thwarted a deal in 2008, before the financial crisis plunged much of the world into recession.
U.S. mid-term congressional elections in November and a Brazilian presidential election are among political hurdles.
The International Business Council called at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos for world leaders to follow through on their pledge made at last September’s Pittsburgh G20 summit to clinch a trade deal in 2010.
“This is a time for governments around the world to show commitment to the system which has helped create growth and development in the last 60 years,” the IBC said in a statement, adding that a trade pact would “put decent jobs at the heart of the recovery.”
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who heads the G20 grouping of major economies this year, vowed in an address to the Davos forum to put the issue at the top of the agenda of a G20 summit he will host in Seoul in November.
“In particular, concluding the Doha Development Agenda before the end of the year should be given the highest priority,” he said of World Trade Organization negotiations launched in 2001 in the Qatari capital.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address on Wednesday he would push for a world trade agreement that opened up global markets, but he did not mention the 2010 target date set by the G20.
Egyptian Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid told Reuters he did not expect a deal this year because the economic crisis had raised Western fears about the impact of trade liberalization.
“It’s obvious that with unemployment in the United States and Europe, it is going to be tougher to have discussions on free trade,” he said.
Obama also vowed to boost U.S. trade ties with Asia and launch an initiative to double U.S. exports in the next five years to boost growth and employment.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy told reporters that Obama’s comments went in the right direction and indicated he was giving trade greater priority in his economic thinking.
However, WTO officials said the United States was sending only a deputy ambassador to an annual meeting of ministers from major trading nations on the sidelines of the Davos conference on Saturday, and not U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
Lamy said he was encouraged that free trade had not suffered serious setbacks in the economic crisis and there had been no outbreak of protectionism. It was also positive that no one had gone back on the 80 percent of a trade deal already on the table.
But Lamy said the G20 leaders’ call for an agreement in 2010 “has not yet materialized into serious engagement necessary to crack the few tough nuts that are still there.”
He cited differences over U.S. cotton subsidies, safeguards to protect farmers in poor countries from a surge of imports, trade in services and open markets for environmental goods as the remaining stumbling blocks.
“Technically it’s doable,” Lamy said. Whether the political will existed would be checked when the WTO conducts a stocktaking exercise in late March.
Britain’s trade minister Mervyn Davies said regulators must relax restrictions on trade finance to reflect the less risky nature of short-term lending to boost global economic recovery.
Trade finance was a major victim of the 2008 credit crunch, with developing countries the main victims. The World Trade Organization and banks active in the sector fear that a tougher approach to banking regulation since the crisis could hurt efforts to revive the market.
additional reporting by Dominic Evans, Editing by Hans Peters