Trade ministers try for new impetus toward Doha

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DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Thailand’s prime minister on Saturday urged more than two dozen senior officials from key economies to try to send a political signal that new global trade can be completed this year.

Speaking Saturday at the World Economic Forum, Abhisit Vejjajiva said a failure to reach agreement on a global trade deal and climate change would indicated a leadership vaccum on the global stage.

"Despite what global leaders say, they are still very much dictated by domestic politics," he said.

Renewed talk of a deal — which some say could add billions to the world economy — has won backing from leaders and executives at the World Economic Forum this week.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron cited it as a key test for the international community’s ability to cooperate in reviving the world economy.

The trade ministers from the United States, China and other major economies meet Saturday in Davos, where China’s growth and worries about Europe’s debts have been a focus of attention among the 2,500 business and political leaders discussing the state of the world economy.

The president of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy, is to speak about leadership challenges after his first year in the job, which saw indebted Greece and Ireland need massive bailouts and threw the euro currency into disarray.

World Bank chief Robert Zoellick and European finance ministers issue their forecasts for 2011, and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will lay out his plans for a country recently knocked down from its spot as the No. 2 world economy by China.

Trade is a central issue at Davos. Merkel and Cameron said Friday that failure to conclude the so-called Doha round of trade talks risks setting back efforts to liberalize global commerce by years, if not decades.

"We are literally meters away from the finishing line," Merkel said.

The trade talks, launched almost 10 years ago in the Qatari capital, Doha, have been declared moribund by experts for a long time, as rich and poor countries clash over lowering tariffs and easing access to each others’ markets.

"People feel like this is somehow Monty Python’s dead parrot, but we won’t stop talking about it," Cameron said. "I profoundly believe that is not true."

Experts remain skeptical that a deal can be reached this year, mainly because China and the United States remain at loggerheads on key issues. Pushing the talks into 2012 — a U.S. presidential election year — would make a conclusion even less likely because the sensitive issue of trade would be a hard sell for politicians of any stripe.

The discussion over trade echoes concerns that the global economic downturn since 2007 has made it harder for leaders to put immediate national interests aside and work together toward other bigger goals — such as combating climate change, global food price rises and currency speculation.

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