By John Heilprin
DAVOS, Switzerland -- Trade ministers from many of the world's biggest economies pledged to broaden a deal to boost global trade Saturday, with the U.S. saying nothing is off-limits for discussion.
At a Swiss-hosted meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, ministers from China, the European Union, Japan, the U.S. and 15 other nations agreed to build on the "positive momentum" of a World Trade Organization summit in December in Bali, where the organization's 159 member economies agreed to cut customs red tape.
The ministers agreed to address the most difficult remaining negotiating topics of agriculture, market access and services, said Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann, who hosted the meeting. These topics eluded an agreement last month, in the first WTO deal since the global trade body was formed in 1995, he said.
Schneider-Ammann said the world economic powers agreed to promptly build on the Bali agreement, with "a particular focus on issues important to least-developing countries."
He added, "In order to be able to successfully tackle these topics, fresh and credible approaches will be needed."
WTO Director-General Robert Azevedo said the negotiating process must be transparent and inclusive, so every member can have a voice and participate, but that "the do-ability test is very important" in working toward an expanded free-trade deal that balances "ambition and realism."
The Bali deal could boost global trade by $1 trillion over time. Its centerpiece was an agreement on measures to ease barriers to trade by simplifying customs procedures and making them more transparent.