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WTO chief says Doha deal uncertain

SEOUL, Dec 7 – The World Trade Organisation chief urged members on Monday to resist protectionist pressure in the wake of the economic crisis, but said hopes of an early deal to free up international commerce are uncertain.

"In February this year, the global economic downturn was peaking," WTO director general Pascal Lamy told a forum.

"Less than a year on, progress has been made but we are not yet out of the woods."

Lamy, in a speech and comments at a press conference, said the volume of world trade this year would shrink by slightly more than 10 percent, "which is unprecedented in modern times".

In this environment, he said, "pressure for protectionist actions…with their illusory gains for the domestic economy, will not necessarily diminish any time soon."

Lamy said success in completing the Doha round of trade talks next year as scheduled was vital to signal business and consumer confidence, and would strengthen the hand of governments as they confront protectionist pressures.

"This will not occur unless they are all ready for heavy political lifting at home," he said, adding there would be a "crunch time meeting" in the first quarter to check if the goal was attainable.

Prospects for meeting the deadline remain uncertain, he said. "The jury is still out until the end of the first quarter of next year."

A ministerial meeting in Geneva last week made little progress towards ending the impasse.

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The Doha round began in 2001, with a focus on dismantling obstacles to trade for poor nations by striking an accord that will cut agriculture subsidies and tariffs on industrial goods.

Deadlines to conclude the talks have been repeatedly missed.

Discussions have been dogged by disagreements on issues including how much the US and the European Union should reduce aid to their farmers and the extent to which developing countries such as India, China and South Africa should cut tariffs.

Lamy said developing states, which make up two-thirds of WTO members, suffer especially from protectionism.

"Our poor members have been hit short-term by the shrinking trade," he said.

"They depend much more than others on trade to grow their economy and to reduce poverty, which is why fighting protectionism is even more important for them as it is for richer countries."

Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said discussions on new multilateral fiscal regulations to avoid a repeat crisis should proceed in a fair manner.

"There cannot be a stable global economic governance without having both trade and finance regulated at the multilateral level," he told a separate press conference on the forum\’s sidelines.

Supachai said it would be necessary to stress equal treatment for member countries.

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"So there should not be a double standard in a way that rules are applied — one set of rules for industrialised countries or one set of rules for developing countries.

"They would all be subjected to the same rules — no double standard."

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