Cooperation on resources needed to avert tension: WTO

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The head of the World Trade Organization called Friday for greater global cooperation on the trade of natural resources, warning that a failure to work together could spark new tensions.

"I believe not only that there is room for mutually beneficial negotiating trade-offs that encompass natural resources trade, but also that a failure to address these issues could be a recipe for growing tension in international trade relations," said Pascal Lamy, WTO Director-General.

In the trade agency's annual report, Lamy pointed out that "well designed trade rules are key to ensuring that trade is advantageous."

"But they are also necessary for the attainment of objectives such as environmental protection and the proper management of natural resources in a domestic setting."

The value of world trade in natural resources -- including fisheries, fuels, forestry products and mining -- reached 3.7 trillion dollars in 2008, close to a quarter of world merchandise trade.

Trade in such products had surged more than six fold between 1998 and 2008 mainly due to sharp rises in fuel prices, noted the WTO.

But as natural resources are finite or requires time for natural replenishment, resource rich countries typically restrict their export volumes through export taxes or quotas.

Such measures help to improve conservation of resources and can help push countries to diversify their exports away from the natural resource sectors.

However, the WTO warned that such trade measures can be problematic. They can lead to retaliation or rising world prices.

Rather, Lamy pushed for "well designed trade rules" to address environmental protection and management of natural resources.

"We would greatly enhance our chances of positive action in this area if we were to come to a prompt closure of the Doha Round," he said, referring to the long-stalled trade talks for a global free trade deal.

Launched in 2001 in the Qatari capital, the talks have foundered as developed countries and developing ones fail to agree on lowering tariffs and subsidies.

While not specifically targetting natural resources trade, the Doha package tackles pertinent issues such as fisheries subsidies.

© 2010 AFP

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