WTO ministers re-committed to fight protectionism

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Some 17 WTO trade ministers on Saturday reaffirmed their commitment to fight protectionism despite the world trade body's long-time deadlock in the Doha Round trade-opening negotiations.

The ministers at an informal meeting in Davos said they would continue efforts "to resist protectionist pressures at home," and they recognized that "the opening-up of market is the best to do to fight the crisis," Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard told a press conference.

Leuthard, the host of the meeting, admitted that there was still no breakthrough in the eight-year-old Doha Round negotiations. But she said the WTO rules "are there as a whole," and those rules have helped prevent "an even worse global economic crisis."

"The opening-up of markets is the best we can do to fight the crisis, to better stabilize our budgets and to contribute to the recovery of the global economy which will induce overall job creation. The conclusion of the Doha Round will be a strong multilateral tool to that purpose," Leuthard told reporters.

Despite the continuing deadlock of the Doha Round, ministers at the Davos meeting "reaffirmed the importance of continued ministerial engagement during the next months," she said.

According to a list provided by the Swiss Economics Ministry, Saturday's mini-ministerial meeting was participated by major WTO players such as the European Union, Australia, Japan, Brazil, India and China. But the United States sent no ministerial official to the event.

The Doha Round, launched in the Qatari capital Doha in 2001 with an aim to help poor countries prosper through trade opening, has missed quite a few deadlines for conclusion because of sharp differences among the 153 WTO members on the complex issues of agricultural trade and industrial market access.

Although leaders of the G20 major economies, including U.S. President Barack Obama, set a new target last September to reach a Doha Round deal in 2010, analysts doubt that could happen, as the Obama administration seems occupied by the domestic financial crisis and health care reforms and thus reluctant to fully engage in multilateral trade negotiations.

According to WTO plans, a crucial stock-taking meeting will be held at the end of March to assess the status of the Doha Round and whether the 2010 target could be reached. But so far the format and participation level of the meeting is still not clear.

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