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argentina WORLD TRADE ORGANISATION SUMMIT

WTO meeting in Buenos Aires may close without deals, Germany suggests

However, the European Union is making progress towards a free-trade agreement with the Mercosur trade bloc, which will likely be sealed this or next week.

Tuesday 12 December, 2017
President Mauricio Macri attends the business forum of the eleventh Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Buenos Aires in December, 2017.
President Mauricio Macri attends the business forum of the eleventh Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Buenos Aires in December, 2017. Foto:AP-Natacha Pisarenko

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The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is not expected to reach concrete agreements at its meeting currently under way in Buenos Aires, the head of the German delegation said today.

"The best we can achieve is that we will have concrete working programmes for a string of issues such as fishing and e-trade," Matthias Machnig told the dpa news agency on Tuesday.

About 4,000 delegates from 164 countries have gathered in the nation’s capital for the four-day meeting, which is due to conclude on Wednesday.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Monday accused WTO members of focusing on litigation instead of negotiations and said that some wealthier countries were given unfair advantage by being treated as developing countries.

"We need to clarify our understanding of development within the WTO," said Lighthizer.

"We cannot sustain a situation in which new rules can only apply to a few and that others will be given a pass in the name of self-proclaimed development status," added the official, who has previously accused China of distorting markets.

China, European and Latin American countries responded to the criticism by reaffirming their support for the multilateral trade system.

Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said multilateral trade should operate within an open economy, calling globalisation an "irreversible" trend.

Several European and Latin American countries called for a stronger WTO, with German delegation chief Matthias Machnig saying the organisation's dispute settlement system should be bolstered to allow it to guarantee equal rights instead of favouring the strongest.

European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem called for "pragmatism" and warned against blocking negotiations on agricultural subsidies and other issues.

‘Practically empty’

WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said Lighthizer left BA on Monday and that conference chair Susana Malcorra had described its result so far as a "glass" that was "practically empty."

The European Union however is making progress towards a free-trade agreement with the Mercosur trade bloc, the customs union comprised of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The deal is expected to be sealed in Buenos Aires or at a follow-up Mercosur meeting in Brazil next week.

Machnig spoke in support of the deal.

"It would also be an important signal ... that trade policy works, that we are bilaterally able to reach trade agreements," Machnig said.

"I think it would also be a good signal to other WTO members who have not behaved so constructively here," he added.

Machnig welcomed Lighthizer's comments as "constructive."

"I found it a constructive speech, because he raised important questions which do in fact need to be answered also within the framework of the WTO," he added.

Hurdles still to overcome, however, include the extent of access quotas of Mercosur meat and ethanol into the EU.

"Today more than ever it is necessary to be conscious that each one of us is expected to give in," President Mauricio Macri said on opening the WTO meeting.

"We need to send a message to the world that as we face the current challenges, we at the WTO are able to reach agreements," said Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico's secretary of economy.

The EU is seeking new markets amid concern that US President Donald Trump's protectionism could curtail international trade. Shortly before the Argentina meeting, Japan and the EU finalised a wide-ranging free trade deal.
Rene Mauricio Valdes from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) stressed the need to toughen international trade rules to protect the poor.

Forums such as the WTO and the G20 should promote "legal and economic incentives" so that "the financial system does not channel its money flow only to speculation, but to sustainable development," Valdes said.

- TIMES/DPA

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