March 26, 2013 / 12:56 PM / 4 years ago

Doha fate hinges on December meeting: Indonesian WTO candidate

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Indonesia's Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Mari Pangestu poses for a picture following an interview with Reuters in Ottawa March 25, 2013.Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A ministers meeting in December will help decide the fate of the long-stalled Doha round of talks to liberalize world trade, a candidate to head the World Trade Organization said on Monday.

Indonesian government minister Mari Pangestu, one of nine people bidding to replace WTO director-general Pascal Lamy when he leaves in May, said the Bali meeting of WTO trade ministers would allow members to judge the level of enthusiasm for carrying on.

The Doha round, which was launched in 2001, ground to a halt in 2008 amid disagreements over farm subsidies, tariffs and market access. Lamy formally declared an impasse in 2011.

"We have to still try our best and do our maximum. I think the jury is still out there, I think. I'm not of the opinion that Doha is dead," Pangestu told Reuters in an interview during a trip to Ottawa to promote her candidacy.

"What's important is what happens at the end of this year because I think when we see what happens (then) we can see whether there is confidence to continue the momentum and whether there is the political window to move," she said.

At the Bali meeting WTO ministers will try to agree a slimmed down "trade facilitation" package to boost trade by removing customs barriers.

A smaller group, or subset, of member nations is working on a deal to cut duties on information technology.

Indonesia's Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Mari Pangestu poses for a picture following an interview with Reuters in Ottawa March 25, 2013.Chris Wattie

"When you can't get all to agree, you get subsets to agree first of all. But the idea is if we are consistent with the multilateral trading system, at some point you make it open for all countries," said Pangestu, a former trade minister.

The United States, fed up with the lack of progress over Doha, is pressing for a Pacific free trade pact and is set to start talks with the European Union on liberalizing trade. Canada is in the late stages of talks on its own deal with the EU and also wants agreements with India and South Korea.

"If you have too many bilateral and regional (deals), you actually exclude a lot of the small countries and the poorer countries," said Pangestu, who favors Doha over the proposed Pacific pact. She is currently minister of tourism.

She dismissed the idea that her candidacy was a long shot because another Asian - Thailand's Supachai Panitchpakdi - held the job before Lamy took over in 2005.

"In terms of candidacy, I think all agree that it should be based on competence, capability, experience ... We feel that regional allocation should not play a role," she said.

Diplomats say it is the turn of a Latin American, Caribbean or African candidate to hold the job next.

Another potential challenge for Pangestu is international criticism over Indonesia's import licensing rules and a decision to slap a 20 percent emergency import tariff on wheat flour.

Pangestu said other nations had taken similar steps to deal with the after-effects of the 2008 crisis and pressure from increased competition.

Reporting by David Ljunggren

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