The World Trade Organization says the global economic troubles make it more important than ever to successfully conclude the Doha Development Round of trade negotiations. The WTO says a free-trade agreement is possible by the end of next year.
Meetings to revive the failed Doha Round are gathering steam here in Geneva. The World Trade Organization says it has received renewed political commitments from heads of state and trade ministers to conclude an agreement by the end of 2010.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy says the months ahead will be a busy period for the organization's 153 member states to press ahead with the Doha negotiations and to move them to a speedy conclusion.
"We all know this crisis is unprecedented in its width, in its depth, in its global impact," he said. "We must act collectively to send the right signals and establish an appropriate trading environment for a sustainable recovery for all."
When the Doha Round collapsed three years ago, world trade was buoyant and it appeared as if the good economic times would continue. The story now is very different. WTO economists predict world trade will shrink by 10 percent this year - something which has not happened since World War II.
WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell tells VOA it is increasingly recognized that trade has been a victim of the economic crisis. He also says trade will be an important tool for lifting the world out of the current situation.
"Through the market opening that will come through this round, this will be in effect a global tax cut of about $150 billion. These kinds of things can be important stimulus of the economic recovery," he said.
Rockwell says people, by and large, have resisted taking high intensity protectionist measures, because they are aware that trade is contracting and such measures would hurt the economy and hamper the recovery.
"Despite that, there is a lot of pressure in almost every country - domestic pressure for more protectionism. Now, one way to keep trade open is to keep opening trade and that is what the Doha Round would do. What we need to do now is to translate this very strong show of political support into action at the negotiating table here in Geneva," he said.
The negotiations will not be easy. The problems that scuttled the last agreement are complex and remain to be resolved. Major disagreements about access to each other's markets continue to divide the rich nations from the poor ones.