MEXICO CITY – Global trade talks are in crisis and private companies in the United States urgently need to pressure their government back to the negotiating table, Mexico's candidate to head the World Trade Organization said on Wednesday.
Herminio Blanco, a former Mexican trade minister who led negotiations to create the North American Free Trade Agreement, insists it is vital to revive the stalled Doha round of trade talks.
"At this point in time the Doha round is in crisis," Blanco told Reuters in an interview ahead of a world tour to lobby for his candidacy. "The private sectors have to tell the governments it is fundamental to solve these negotiations."
"One of the first targets has to be the United States. The private sector of the United States has to tell the government: You have to move in Geneva ... you have to be more reasonable in your positions, you have to get to the table and you have to negotiate."
Countries have tried unsuccessfully for over a decade to conclude the Doha round of world trade talks, which was supposed to open up new markets in agriculture, manufacturing and services, and help the world's poorest countries.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy declared an "impasse" in 2011.
A host of free trade agreements, Asia-Pacific free trade talks and a push by the United States and the European Union to start negotiating a vast transatlantic free trade pact by June underscore the need for new rules that address evolving obstacles to trade, he said.
A deal between the United States and EU would be the most ambitious since the WTO was founded in 1995 and highlights impatience at failure to agree to global tariff cuts.
Blanco is one of nine candidates bidding to replace Lamy, and many trade diplomats think the job should go to Latin America, the Caribbean or Africa.
Brazil - Latin America's largest economy and seen as a bridge between rich and developing nations thanks to its BRICS grouping with Russia, India, China and South Africa - has nominated Roberto Azevedo, an experienced negotiator who represented Brazil at the WTO. [ID:nL1E9CAA1A]
However, Brazil upset some WTO members by hiking duties on dozens of imported products from cars to glass and iron pipes to fend off competition from the likes of China. Costa Rica also has a candidate.
FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS
If chosen to lead the WTO, Blanco said he would seek ways to ensure such free trade initiatives were wrapped into the global trade organization. He says it is the International Monetary Fund's job to grapple with "currency war" tensions, not the WTO's.
Key issues include the elimination of subsidies for agricultural exports that hurt smaller countries, decreasing tariffs on industrial products and introducing new rules to govern the way disputes are solved at the WTO.
Blanco believes the Doha talks ran aground over tariffs for industrial products, saying that typically negotiators are given instructions to stop progress across the board if they come up against one big sticking point.
"If you look at most of the chapters of the Doha round, and you see in those chapters that nothing is moving, it is not because there is a major problem in each one of them," he said.
"It's because there's a problem in one, and potentially it's the negotiation of industrial tariffs that has brought this reaction around all of the other topics."
Blanco touts his credentials as an experienced trade negotiator, as well as the fact that he has worked in both government and the private sector.
As a consultant, he gave Mexico's government advice as it negotiated participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership last year, even though the initiative is deliberately circumventing the WTO. He sees no conflict of interest.
"We were just helping the Mexican government to be a member of these negotiations. Mexico was being left out of this negotiation, and we thought it was fundamental to be there, because our main partner, the U.S., is part of it," he said.
"This was for the good of the country and very importantly, the private sector has to be there," he added. "If the WTO was moving, obviously that energy would be spent on negotiating in Geneva."
(Reporting by Simon Gardner; Editing by Eric Beech)