German minister calls for global free accord under WTO

'We should restart discussions in WTO even as we are negotiating comprehensive bilateral agreements', says Gabriel

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German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Saturday urged a resumption of long-stalled efforts to negotiate a global free accord, warning that the proliferation of bilateral trade deals could lead to varying standards and rules.

“The best thing would be an agreement under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO),” Gabriel said during a business conference in Hong Kong.

“We should restart discussions in the WTO even as we are negotiating comprehensive bilateral agreements.”

Bilateral trade deals

In the absence of a global trade agreement, Gabriel said it was important that bilateral trade deals also include social, climate and consumer standards, beyond simply reducing tariffs.

The German minister said resistance to free trade agreements such as the one signed last week by the European Union and Canada was largely due to insufficient communication by governments about the benefits of such accords and the failure to include citizens and societal groups.

Activists in the Netherlands have gathered almost two thirds of the signatures needed to lay the groundwork for a referendum on the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which they say overly favors the interests of multinational companies.

A referendum defeat would throw up a further obstacle to the ratification of CETA, which was almost scuttled last month by a regional assembly in neighboring Belgium.

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