World trade talks to top agenda at IMF summit

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The Independent Online

Hopes of a deal to rescue the stalled world trade talks were given a boost yesterday as Gordon Brown said it would top the agenda at the annual summit of the International Monetary Fund next month.

The Chancellor said resurgent trade protectionism and the suspension of the Doha talks last month posed a threat to stability.

His comments came as China said it was willing to help restart talks that collapsed in the summer over a dispute about cuts in farming subsidies and tariffs.

Mr Brown said one of the "most ominous" setbacks over the summer had been the collapse of World Trade Organisation trade liberalisation talks. Getting them back on track must be the focus at next month's IMF and World Bank meeting in Singapore, he said.

"I've decided with Rodrigo Rato, the IMF's managing director, that we must put trade and globalisation at the top of our agenda," he wrote in the Financial Times.

"We must all wake up to the reality that, without the forward momentum a new trade agreement would give, we risk rolling backwards to the age of beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism and the further threats to stability that flow from it."

The talks, launched almost five years ago in Doha, appeared to have broken down irretrievably in July after a mini summit called to thrash out a skeleton deal ended in failure. One minister, India's Kamal Nath, said after the meeting that the talks were halfway "between intensive care and the crematorium". However, politicians have been working behind the scenes to try to resurrect a deal.

It emerged yesterday Bo Xilai, the Chinese commerce minister, had told his US counterpart, Susan Schwab: "China is willing to work with other parties to revive the Doha Round of global trade negotiation." Ms Schwab said: "Surely now is the time for China to play a bigger role in line with its status as the third-largest trading nation."

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