Davos ministers eye free trade deal

Trade ministers vow to complete the Doha Round and open up world trade in 2009.

    Anti-globalisation activists demonstrated in Geneva [AFP]

    The Doha round was launched in late 2001 to open up trade in food, goods and services like banking and telecoms, as well as helping developing countries to trade their way out of poverty.

    "The Doha round will be the biggest stimulus package ever," Doris Leuthard, the Swiss economy minister, said.

    'Fighting crisis'

    She said ministers could meet on the Doha Round before the G20 summit to be held on April 2, which wants to settle on clear actions for tackling the global economic and financial crisis.

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    "We have to build a better understanding for trade at home. The opening up of markets is the best we can do to fight the crisis," she said.

    A new trade deal would prevent countries from raising new barriers against imports, as several countries have done in recent months.

    Ahead of the talks hosted by the Swiss government, politicians warned that measures to block imports to save jobs would deepen the economic crisis, as happened in the Great Depression in the 1930s.

    Concerns were also raised about how multi-billion dollar stimulus packages and bailouts could discriminate against foreign businesses, prompting tit-for-tat measures, which also happened in the 1930s.

    "It is very clear that we have to be better at communicating the message to all the people across the world that, in order to come out of the economic downturn, we need to keep trade open," Catherine Ashton, the European Union trade commissioner, said.

    But on Saturday, the European Union imposed import duties of up to 85 per cent on screws and bolts from China, a move likely to trigger retaliatory action by Beijing at the WTO.

    Swiss protests

    Hundreds of people rallied in Geneva and Davos to protest against the forum, saying the leaders gathered for their annual meeting were responsible for the world's financial problems and not qualified to solve them.

    Carrying banners reading "You are the crisis" and throwing snowballs, several hundred protesters marched in Davos.

    In Geneva, riot police fired tear gas and water canon to disperse a crowd that had gathered in a square near the train station.

    About 60 people were detained temporarily for checks but there had been no arrests, Jean-Philippe Brandt, a Geneva police spokesman, said.

    "There are small groups of people who are clashing with police but there have not been any injuries on one side or the other," Brandt said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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