Leaving struggling WTO, Lamy tells member states to try harder
GENEVA, July 24 (Reuters) - Pascal Lamy signed off as head of the World Trade Organization on Wednesday with criticism of the way the 159 member countries try - and usually fail - to agree new trade deals.
"You must look beyond your interests and also care about this institution, both as owners but also as stakeholders that you are," he told trade ambassadors in his farewell speech.
The WTO is in crisis because it has failed to agree on how to open global trade. Talks launched in Doha in 2001 dragged on for a decade before the WTO settled on a much less ambitious programme, which it is now struggling to finalise in time for a ministerial meeting in Bali in December.
"I do believe critics have a point when they suggest that the manner in which we conduct multilateral negotiations could be improved," said Lamy, who will be succeeded by Brazil's Roberto Azevedo on Sept. 1.
Lamy has presided over an 11 nation expansion of the WTO but China's economic rise and a global economic crisis made it harder for governments to challenge vested interests and make the concessions necessary for trade reform.
The 66-year-old former European Union trade commissioner said the WTO should follow the process used by other international organisations and let WTO staff draft trade agreements, with member states setting the initial objectives and signing off on any final decision.
"Much time could be saved," he said.
Critics of the WTO were wrong to say it was becoming irrelevant, but right to question its credibility if it could not deliver on trade reform, he said. There was "no escape" from trying to achieve the original Doha goals.
Trade experts say the lack of a WTO deal is undermining the body's role as arbiter of trade, partly because governments are forging bilateral and regional deals instead, such as an U.S.-EU pact and the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership.
As the trade rule book gets outdated, governments are also increasingly using loopholes to protect their economies, defeating the purpose of the WTO.
Lamy is often rumoured to be in line for a job in the French government of Francois Hollande. He gave no hint of his future plans, saying only: "It is time for me to embark towards another life cycle".
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)