May 30, 2016 / 5:00 PM / 3 years ago

Business wants a WTO trade deal to end tariffs on chemicals

GENEVA, May 30 (Reuters) - A treaty to scrap import tariffs on chemicals emerged as a favoured candidate for a new trade agreement on Monday, as more than 60 business leaders debated ideas for new agreement at the World Trade Organisation headquarters.

Until 2013, WTO trade talks were deadlocked in the “Doha Round” of negotiations, but WTO members broke the impasse, striking a deal to cut customs red tape. An agreement to scrap tariffs on information technology products followed in 2015, and a similar deal on environmental goods is being worked on.

Chemicals could follow the same tariff-cutting template, said Kati Suominen, chief executive of TradeUp Capital Fund, who chaired one of four closed-door sessions.

“I think the discussion on chemicals was motivated by our discussion of ... the Information Technology Agreement and perhaps using a similar modality for the chemicals sector, where there’s a wide range of products, and similar ideas for liberalising this sector worldwide,” she said.

Other areas where businesses would like to see global standards or lower barriers included e-commerce, movement of people, consumer protection, local content requirements on manufactured goods, double taxation, data transfer and foreign direct investment.

Those ideas would all need further discussion, whereas “in certain sectors like chemicals we probably know what to do right away,” Suominen said.

Carole Kariuki of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, who chaired another session, said: “While there were many other sectors, the chemicals sector seems a little more organised.”

The session on small- and medium-sized enterprises had a “robust discussion” on trade finance, which was a critical bottleneck, Suominen said.

“As we look around the world we see that banks are now more stifled from lending to SMEs in light of the fact that they have higher capital and ‘know your customer’ requirements. But at the same time we see a rise of alternative financing vehicles, online platforms and such, and we thought that this may be a great opportunity for the WTO to explore.”

“Apparently chemicals was mentioned more than anything else,” said WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo. He said business leaders had approached him about holding the event. It was still early to say how the WTO’s 162 members could develop the ideas.

“This is just the first shot. My understanding is that the group wants to continue this and maybe meet again and come back to us with more detailed proposals,” he said. “Clearly the WTO can do things. We have been doing a lot in just two years.” (Reporting by Tom Miles, editing by Larry King)

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