Barefoot Investor: Australia warns against Doha trade round failure

WASHINGTON: Australia's foreign minister warned Tuesday of a new era of protectionism if global trade talks should fail.

Fears are growing among World Trade Organization members that the so-called Doha Round could now collapse with little to show for almost 10 years of haggling.

Foreign minister Kevin Rudd said that would signal that protectionism among small groups of nations was OK. He said bilateral trade agreements or pacts linking small groups of nations were no substitute for a global pact.

"I would appeal to all countries who are contemplating big decisions on the future of Doha to think through the consequences of the alternative," he said in a talk at the Brookings Institution think tank.

"It's not just not delivering a positive trade outcome. It's the signal contained in that, that the era of free trade is coming to an end."

Rudd said that governments should reflect on the economic history of the 1930s when global downturns were compounded by protectionism.

Rudd, a former prime minister, is visiting Washington and held talks Monday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Doha Round was launched in Qatar's capital in late 2001 and was meant to add billions of dollars to the global economy by spurring cross-border trade.

WTO chief Pascal Lamy has warned the trade negotiations are at "serious risk" because developed and developing nations cannot agree on how to reduce duties on manufactured products such as chemicals and electronics. - AP


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