APEC talks crucial to WTO trade deal deadline

Updated: 2013-10-06 08:58


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BALI, Indonesia - The World Trade Organization (WTO) is hoping that crucial talks during APEC meetings will help it put together sweeping trade facilitation measures before a December deadline in what would be its first global deal in nearly two decades, the new head of the WTO said here on Saturday.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, who took the helm of the WTO last month and is attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings here, had a clear message to the leaders -- fast track discussions.

This is all the more important as APEC's 21 member economies account for almost 2.8 billion people and over half of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

"APEC is dedicated to supporting multilateral trade and we are in need of support as much as ever. I am giving the message of where we are and how importantly we want engagement from capitals and from ministers themselves. They are making progress but they are not fast enough. They need to make decisions and need to make them quickly and we have to use that time productively," he said.

Azevedo's call comes as the WTO attempts to push ahead with a complex deal that could break the deadlock of world tariffs reached at the Doha Round in 2008 that could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy as well as open up for wider trade reform.

The WTO has consistently disagreed to new global trade agreements since it was founded in 1995.

Ambassadors of WTO's 159 members have been holding long drawn talks at the organization's headquarters in Geneva but Azevedo is insistent that the talks have been more political than trade based.

The pipeline agreement covers several areas, the largest being trade facilitation.

It contains a global standardization and simplification of customs procedures that, by some estimates, would cut trade costs by 10 percent for developed countries and by 14 percent for developing countries.

Indonesia, in particular, has thrown its weight behind the deal, strongly lobbying at the APEC Ministerial Meeting to gain wide approval for its plan to reduce tariffs for products that contribute to poverty reduction as well as promoting rural and sustainable development.

"It is fair to say that our 2020 target of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific is not far from where we are now," Indonesia's Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan stated after the APEC Ministerial Meeting.

"This year, we worked on the issues of ensuring the equitable benefits from liberalization," he explained.

"The aim of this exercise is to focus on reducing economic disparities among economies and improving the economic and social well-being of our people."

"We face a daunting responsibility to ensure the credibility of the multilateral trading system through a successful outcome of the WTO's 9th Ministerial Conference in December in Bali and subsequently work towards the successful conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda negotiations," Wirjawan admitted.

"APEC must play a key role by extending strong political support."

Another part of a deal would be on food security, allowing developing countries to break the agreed WTO limits on agricultural subsidies while stockpiling staple crops. It would also upgrade WTO rules and upgrade them to deal with challenges in the internet age.

However, timing is vital because Azevedo wants the structure of the deal locked down by October so that there is enough time for a reform package to be penned and signed by trade ministers in time for a December meeting in Bali.

"If the WTO with the help of APEC sees what is at stake then they will achieve it. We all know that we cannot do all this between now and December. What I am positive of is that if we have a positive outcome in Bali then we can impact the Doha round and perhaps beyond that as well."

Azevedo is emphatic that the hiccups are in "how" the trade facilitation is implemented and believes that developing countries need to be given technical assistance to put procedures in place progressively.

"The WTO is a lot about momentum and about getting the right environment for negotiations. The big players are here and they are talking about what will happen two months from now. If we can maintain this level of engagement and talking to non-APEC members as well this will be an interesting contribution to the negotiations in December."