CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The global economic crisis has not led to a return to trade protectionism to the extent feared, but free trade remains under threat, the World Trade Organization's director general said Tuesday.
"I still believe we're not out of the woods, but this notion that for the moment ... the system has resisted this big wave of economic crisis I think is absolutely correct," Pascal Lamy told reporters outside Parliament House.
"We've had a few slippages here and there, much less than was expected," the Frenchman said without elaborating.
The WTO chief said a successful conclusion this year to the Doha round of world trade liberalization talks — which are already six years behind schedule — would mean governments are less likely to shield their own industries with protectionist policies in the future.
Lamy's comments come as the United States and China accuse each other of deepening protectionism since the 2008 economic downturn slowed global demand.
Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Yao Jian said recently that "trade protectionism has severely affected the stable development of China-U.S. economic and trade relationships."
U.S. protectionism had increased during the global crisis, he said, citing the imposition last month of antidumping tariffs on Chinese-made metal mesh trays and electric blankets.
Meanwhile, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke accused Beijing of improperly helping its domestic companies by creating barriers against foreign competitors.
Lamy, who was holding strategy meetings with Prime Minister John Howard and other Australian officials on how to make headway in the Doha negotiations, said the stagnating talks still could be concluded this year as the Group of 20 economies wanted.
"Whether there is the sort of political spasm of energy that then leads to cracking these few nuts that then open the way for the whole conclusion, that's not for me to say, but it's certainly technically doable," Lamy said.
The negotiations launched in Qatar's capital in 2001 aim to reach a binding treaty that would slash subsidies and cut tariffs in agriculture and manufacturing, including for new economic powerhouses like China, India and Brazil.
But the talks are mired in disagreement. The round is already six years behind schedule, and even a completed accord would have to win parliamentary approval in most countries and Senate ratification in the United States.