Regional, bilateral trade pacts threaten to weaken WTO

PARIS, June 27, 2006 (AFP) – Regional and bilateral trade pacts forged outside the scope of the World Trade Organization are increasingly attractive, undermining the WTO just as it struggles to stitch together a new global deal to boost commerce. Although trade ministers are to convene Thursday in Geneva to mount a last-ditch effort to salvage the Doha round of multilateral talks, they are nonetheless well aware there are other avenues to boosting trade.

In the last 60 years, 348 bilateral or regional trade accords have been registered with the WTO, of which 197 are still in force.

While the impact of such deals on global commerce is difficult to quantify with precision, it has been estimated that they account for about 40 percent of world trade.

“Everyone has bilateral accords in his pocket,” noted Lionel Fontagne, head of the international affairs think tank Cepii.

He said the United States “already depends heavily on NAFTA”, a trade pact linking it with Mexico and Canada.

“If things go wrong at the WTO, Europe will either launch new trade initiatives or re-launch those that are dormant,” he added, citing negotiations with the Mercosur group in Latin America — Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Given the complexi