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WTO Chief: Upcoming Meeting Important to Economic Boost - 2001-11-02

Trade ministers of the 142 member World Trade Organization are expected to meet in Doha, Qatar as planned, despite security concerns. The WTO's director general says the meeting will be important to boost confidence in the face of a weakening world economy. WTO Director-General Mike Moore said it is important that the ministers meeting at the Doha conference next week succeed in starting a new round of trade talks to cut trade barriers.

The last such negotiation, known as the Uruguay Round, ended in 1993. There is widespread feeling that its provisions on the lowering of trade barriers need to be updated and expanded.

Leading figures, such as U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, argue that the launch of a new round would give a boost to the ailing global economy, especially after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Moore is optimistic that the Doha conference could provide the platform to launch a new round. "I think this is highly possible. It's within our grasp," he said. "But there has to be ownership by ministers. This is a ministerial conference, as I said, run by ministers, for ministers, for governments. I think there is a very good chance here. And I think there is enough in this, on balance, for ministers to leave Doha feeling their ownership and opportunity."

Mr. Moore endorses the widely held view that a successful outcome at Doha could boost the world economy. "I think it will be an enormously important conference for many reasons," he said. "I think the global downturn is focusing the minds, that jobs are being shed everywhere. There is not a minister of finance, a mayor or a governor of a province anywhere that is not facing declining revenues. This is focusing the mind. And I tend to respect the view of people like Mr. Greenspan and others who say that this would help boost confidence. I tend to respect the view of Kofi Annan and others who say this would assist developing countries, if it's done correctly. So, I believe this could be an additional boost to a world economy that is slowing far too rapidly."

However, Mr. Moore also cautioned that there were still serious problems to be resolved, mainly between developing countries and the world's leading trading powers.

After September 11, there was speculation that the venue of the conference might have to be changed, or the meeting canceled altogether for security reasons. Mr. Moore dismissed any doubts, and said he was impressed with the organizational side of things at Doha.