(MENAFN - AFP) Negotiators must inject new life into global trade talks within weeks or risk seeing the world slide down the road to protectionism and regional deals, the new leader of the WTO said Monday.
Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, in his first address to the World Trade Organization's 159 member economies, warned that they must break the deadlock in time for a make or break summit in Bali in December.
"It is clear the system is in trouble," Azevedo told his debut session of the WTO's ruling body, the general council.
"The perception of the world is that is we have forgotten how to negotiate. The perception is paralysis. It is essential that we breathe new life into the negotiating process. That's why success at the Bali ministerial is vital," he said.
"While the benefits of success would be great, the consequences of failure would be even greater. The future of the multilateral trading system is at stake. Those who stand to lose the most are the smallest and most vulnerable."
Members of the WTO, which sets the rules of global commerce, launched their "Doha Round" negotiations at a summit in Qatar in 2001.
The aim was to craft a global accord on opening markets and removing trade barriers such as subsidies, excessive taxes and red tape, and harness international commerce to develop poorer economies.
But after early high hopes, the talks stalled amid clashes over the necessary give and take, notably between China, the European Union, India and the United States.
"The world will not wait for the WTO indefinitely. It will move on and will move on with choices that will not be as efficient or as inclusive," warned Azevedo.
"We must maintain vigilance against protectionism," he added.
The failure to break the Doha logjam has led many countries to shift focus to bilateral and regional deals, which by definition leave other WTO members out in the cold.
The EU and United States are exploring a free trade deal, as is the United States with 12 Pacific countries.
The financial crisis has meanwhile renewed calls for protectionism, which runs counter to the WTO's goal of a level trade playing field.
"The world economy is in a very difficult moment. It's in flux," Azevedo said, noting that rich nations were in particular trouble.
"While that happens, others continue to emerge. They are fundamentally shifting the landscape of the world economy," he said.
"The multilateral trading system remains by far the best defence against protectionism and the strongest force for growth, recovery and development," he added.
Seasoned trade negotiator Azevedo is a WTO insider, having served as Brazil's ambassador to the Geneva-based body since 2008.
Elected WTO director general in May, he took over on September 1 from former European Union trade chief, Frenchman Pascal Lamy, who was in charge for eight years.