Australia wants World Trade Organization members to recognize that reaching a comprehensive deal in decade-old world trade talks has become impossible and to focus instead on a series of smaller pacts, the country’s top trade official said on Wednesday.
“We have come to the view that the Doha round can’t be completed in one big lot,” Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson said on the sidelines of this week’s meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
Australia is proposing that nations agree at next month’s WTO ministerial meeting in Geneva to split the negotiations covering manufactured goods, services and agriculture and several other matters into “their component parts and delivering them as they are ready to be delivered, rather than making them all conditional upon each other,” Emerson said.
He argued reviving and eventually reaching a deal in the Doha round was the best thing countries could do to restore global economic growth.
“We’ve pretty well given the fiscal stimuluses [sic] a good old work out and monetary easing a good old work out,” he said.
“It’s our firm conviction that when we’re seeking to achieve a global economic recovery, the best way to do that is to open our economies up to trade.”
The Doha round was launched 10 years ago with the goal of helping poor countries prosper through trade. However, bitter divisions over how much developed countries should cut farm tariffs and subsidies in exchange for developing countries opening their markets have prevented a deal.
Emerson said the WTO should start by agreeing to a deal on “trade facilitation,” referring to package of commitments aimed at improving customs clearing procedures and reducing red tape so that supply chains work more efficiently.
However, that would require countries to abandon a governing principle of the Doha negotiations that nothing is resolved until everything is resolved.
GREEN TRADE INITIATIVE
Meanwhile, Emerson said Australia strongly supported an initiative the United States is pushing at this week’s APEC meetings to help tackle global environmental problems by capping tariffs on a long list of clean energy, pollution treatment and other environmental goods at five percent.
China has called the proposal too ambitious for developing countries. It also warned on Wednesday that a U.S. government decision to potentially impose anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on Chinese-made solar cells and modules threatens cooperation between the two countries on energy issues.
Emerson said he did not want to preempt the discussions trade ministers would have this week on the issue.
“But if we are going to make the transition to a lower carbon economy in the future, then we just can’t sit around exhorting businesses to do it. We need to create some incentives for that to happen,” Emerson said.
Australia also is a partner with the United States and seven other APEC countries in talks on a regional free trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Emerson declined to comment on Japanese media reports that Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was expected to announce on Thursday that Tokyo wanted to join the talks.
That expected announcement creates a delicate situation for the United States, since key U.S. lawmakers have demanded President Barack Obama consult Congress before deciding whether to allow Japan into the negotiations.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Warren Strobel and Robert Birsel)
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