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23 June 2009

EU sees WTO best to further global trade

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While the European Union welcomes growing economic cooperation with the fast-growing economies of East Asia, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he still views the World Trade Organization as the best means of pushing the goal of freer trade around the world, the Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying Wednesday.

In an interview with the Journal on the sidelines of a regional security forum here, Mr. Solana said he was a "traditionalist" on the WTO and believed that there was still reason for optimism that the long-stalled Doha round of liberalisation talks can be passed.

"I very much hope that the next G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh [in September] will continue to insist on the importance of the multilateral" approach, Mr. Solana said. And while bilateral and other regional trade pacts are still compatible with the aspirations of the WTO, "to my mind, this is one of the multilateral organisations we have to maintain and make more efficient," he added.

Solana was speaking shortly before US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to sign a friendship and security agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, just as China did in 2003, and many other countries since.

"It's a highly symbolic step," says Rodolfo Severino, a former Asean secretary-general who now heads up the Asean Studies Center at the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, an assessment with which senior Obama administration officials agree.

Signing the treaty is a first step which could potentially enable the U.S. to join a rising economic cooperation bloc in the region which comprises the ten Asean nations plus countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, India and Australia.

Driven by disappointment by the continued failure of the WTO to ratify the Doha round of trade liberalization talks, international trade analysts say a number of countries are paying closer attention to the kinds of deals that might be put together in the future as alternatives to the stalled WTO process.

The European Union also hopes to sign the so-called Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with Asean. "It's a little more difficult for us, because we are a group of countries," Solana said.

But, he added, "there's no doubt that the center of gravity of many things in the world is moving east, and we want to have a deeper relationship [with the region] both economically and politically."

Separately, the WTO cut its forecast for global trades in manufactured goods for the year, forecasting a 10% decline in volume from an earlier projection of a 9 percent drop.

Entitled "Keeping trade open in times of crisis," the Geneva-based trade arbiter's report accepted the need for "contingency measures" that allow for trade flows to be reined in at times of political and economic tension. But absent a genuine market failure, they will rarely bolster actual economic welfare, the group said.


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