WTO, EU trade chiefs push for progress this year

WTO, EU trade chiefs push for progress this year

WASHINGTON -- Progress in international trade liberalization is possible this year, despite ongoing trade disputes and government elections in the United States and elsewhere, both the director general of the World Trade Organization and the European Union commissioner for trade said Thursday at separate events in Washington.

"What can we achieve in 2004? Answer: significant progress across the board," said EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, speaking at the European American Business Council. "Do not assume that 2004 is a year for the dogs on the Doha Round."

But if any progress is going to be made, said Supachai Panitchpakdi, director general of the World Trade Organization, it is up to the United States to lead the effort.

"The United States, more than any single country, created the world trading system. The U.S. has never had more riding on the strength of that system. And U.S. leadership, specially in the current Doha trade talks, is indispensable to the system's success," Panitchpakdi said at the National Press Club, also in Washington on Thursday.

The WTO chief also urged the U.S. to ease its bilateral trade agreement ambitions and focus instead on the world as a whole.

"How can bilateral deals, even dozens of them, come close to matching the economic impact of agreeing to global free trade among 146 countries? Bilateral and regional deals can sometimes be a complement to the multilateral system, but they can never be a substitute," Panitchpakdi said.

The pursuit of bilateral agreements ultimately leads to more bilateral agreements, as nations seek their own agreements with one another to avoid being marginalized, Panitchpakdi said.

"There are already over 200 bilateral and regional agreements in existence, and each month we hear of a new or expanded deal. There is a basic contradiction in the assumption that bilateral approaches serve to strengthen the multilateral, rules-based system. Even when intended to spur free trade, they can ultimately risk undermining it," he said.

Panitchpakdi also sought to downplay concerns of American jobs moving overseas as trade becomes liberalized, noting that the United States is expected to create 2 million service jobs in the next 10 years and outsource about 200,000.

"Many Americans worry about the potential job losses that might arise from foreign competition in services sectors," he said. "But it's worth remembering that concerns about the impact of foreign competition are not new. Many of the reservations people are expressing today are echoes of what we heard in the 1970s and 1980s. But people at that time didn't fully appreciate the power of American ingenuity."