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Byers calls for World Trade Organisation reform

THE RISING TIDE of protectionism means there is a need for radical reform of the World Trade Organisation, Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will say today.

In a speech to Japanese businessmen, he will warn that barriers to trade pose the biggest threat to world economic growth. In the wake of recent disputes between Europe and the US over bananas and beef, and the US and Japan over steel, he will say the WTO must close loopholes and reduce delays in its settlement of trade disputes.

According to Mr Byers: "As the economic weather turns, as a storm in one region threatens to spread, there are easy but dangerous shelters - a return to protectionism, the breakdown of co-operation, the rise of beggar-thy-neighbour policies." At the heart of his speech will be a call for reformed WTO procedures for settling trade disputes between countries.

"Some of the procedures, such as those governing the enforcement and application of judgements, are open to argument. Loopholes in existing rules allow losing parties to delay the day of reckoning." Mr Byers believes the WTO should consider setting down a clear timetable with deadlines for compliance.

Mr Byers is on a 10-day tour of Japan, Hong Kong and China.