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Experts debate future of multilateral trade negotiations

The new phase of international trade negotiations will not be about boosting volumes, but about standardising consumer-protection measures, said former World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy.

"It will be a totally different game. It is not to get rid of measures … but to get rid of differences between the different country measures," he said at the Fung Global Institute's Asia-Global Dialogue just before a tentative agreement reached at the WTO meeting in Bali early this month.

Lamy's term as director-general of the organisation ended in September.

Victor Fung, founding chairman of the institute, highlighted the benefits of free-trade arrangements, which he claimed had helped to uplift the lives of millions of people.

George Yeo, vice chairman of Kerry Group and a former Singaporean cabinet minister, told the panel that countries had been adopting a regional trade-negotiation strategy, as the WTO was seen not as working. The multilateral system has been in "crisis". The recent regional proposals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership spearheaded by the United States have only sown suspicion, especially among the Chinese, he said.

But Takeshi Niinami, chief executive of Lawson Inc and an adviser to the prime minister of Japan, said regional trade approaches such as the TPP did not deny multilateralism. This pact is seen as a short-term solution to jump-start the stagnated Japanese economy.

Lamy and Yeo debated the differences among the Geneva, Washington and Beijing consensuses. Lamy said that while the Washington consensus was seen as the most market-oriented, the Geneva consensus assumed that what "God does not do, you have to do yourself".


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