New US president won’t shun WTO deal: Zoellick

BRUSSELS - Whoever wins the US presidency would probably back a global trade pact if a deal can be reached this year, despite Democratic candidates’ scepticism over free trade, the head of the World Bank said.

By (Reuters)

Published: Sun 16 Mar 2008, 8:36 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:19 PM

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in an interview that once in the White House, the winner of November’s election would find it hard to block an agreement, should tortuous negotiations at the World Trade Organisation succeed by then.

Hillary Clinton has said she might not finish the 6-year-old Doha world trade talks, and she and her rival for the Democratic party nomination, Barack Obama, have both criticised a 1994 free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico for costing US jobs.

Zoellick, who helped launch the World Trade Organisation’s Doha round in 2001 as the top US trade official, recalled how in 1992 former president George Bush concluded talks for the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and passed it to his successor, Bill Clinton, for signing.

“President Clinton gave some consideration of whether he should move this forward and I think he decided it would be devastating for North American relations if he didn’t,” he said.

“So I guess I would pose the same question. If the Bush administration is able to close a global trade deal, first off whether it’s President (John) McCain, who has been very supportive of trade, or if it’s a President Obama or a President Clinton, can they really walk away from a global trade deal?”

“President Clinton didn’t run on a trade agenda but he found it hard to walk away from the one he was handling,” he said.

More than six years of on-off WTO negotiations are facing yet another make-or-break moment in the next few weeks as trade powers try to push for a deal ahead of the US elections.

Negotiators say a breakthrough in April could be just in time to allow US President George W. Bush to sign a final deal before he leaves office in January next year, but any delays could mean it would be up to the next US president.

The round was launched in 2001 to boost the global economy and ease poverty in developing countries but it has missed deadline after deadline and could collapse altogether without a deal soon, trade officials have warned.

China needs to do more

Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the Brussels Forum transatlantic conference, Zoellick also said developing nations such as Brazil, India and South Africa should not fear bringing down barriers to manufactured goods as part of a WTO deal and he urged China to do more to help find a breakthrough.

“Many of the developing countries could be the prime beneficiaries of lower tariffs in manufactured goods. Look what’s happened in manufacturing over the past 10 years. I don’t think that is going to be reversed.

As part of a WTO deal, the United States, Europe and other rich countries would cut back on farm subsidies and import tariffs for agricultural goods and developing countries would bring down tariffs on goods such as cars or chemicals in return.

Zoellick said some developing countries were concerned that China could damage sectors of their economies such as textiles which employs millions of people in many states.

“I don’t think they’re worried about the United States, Canada and Europe,” he said. “They are worried about China.”

“That’s one of the other dynamics. It’s one reason why even though China is a relatively new (WTO) member I think China has a big stake in the international trading system and it would serve its bigger interests if it helped solve some of these problems to get the round done.”

China, which joined the WTO in 2001, has taken a back seat role in the talks and could show more commitment by giving up some of the exemptions from market-opening it can claim as a relatively new WTO member, Zoellick said.

”They could give up a little of something for the common good,” he said.

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