Geneva: The World Trade Organization (WTO) will start reporting tariff rises and similar moves by its members that limit trade, WTO director general Pascal Lamy has said.
The WTO already monitors such trade measures, and hopes that reporting them will help prevent protectionism—widely blamed for the ferocity of the 1930s Great Depression—from taking hold in the current economic crisis.
The initiative also reflects a determined effort by the body that referees world trade to move beyond trade negotiations after the latest setback to the Doha Round—a decision last week not to call a meeting of ministers.
“I believe that the WTO has a particular responsibility to follow up on the trade measures which have been taken in the wake of the financial crisis,” Lamy told a meeting of the WTO’s 153 members late on Wednesday to prepare the ground for 2009.
At last month’s summit in Washington, leaders of the Group of Twenty, or G-20, rich and emerging nations agreed not to raise trade barriers over the next 12 months. Since then some countries inside and outside the WTO have done just that.
Lamy said the WTO might start issuing regular reports on trade measures this week, and start regular reviews among members in late January.
Lamy said the Doha negotiations would continue, tackling remaining stumbling blocks in the core agriculture and industrial goods areas and catching up in other sectors.
Uruguay’s WTO ambassador, Guillermo Valles Galmes, who chairs negotiations on trade rules, which range from fisheries subsidies to measures to deal with unfairly priced imports, said he hoped to produce a revised negotiating text in a few days.
Several countries called for an “early harvest” of what has been agreed so far—developing nations urged a deal on cotton. But Lamy said a deal on trade facilitation, making it easier to ship goods, had a better chance of support.
US ambassador Peter Allgeier said WTO members were closer than ever before to a deal. “So we are not where we all had hoped we’d be by this...meeting, but we are positioned well to move forward in the new year,” he said.
US concern about some proposals, including one to eliminate tariffs in some industrial sectors like chemicals, contributed to Lamy’s decision not to hold a meeting this week.
Allgeier said negotiators now needed to flesh out the various industrial goods proposals, so that countries could see exactly what they would get and give with the overall tariff cuts, waivers and sector deals.
But Brazilian ambassador Roberto Azevedo, speaking on behalf of the G-20 alliance that seeks a better agriculture deal for developing countries, warned against efforts by rich countries to water down the agriculture proposals.
“We regret that inflexibility and lack of leadership have prevailed precisely when...the world economy faces its most severe crisis in 70 years,” Azevedo said.