|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol 7, No.5, 1.2.01, p4|
The EU'S major trading partners have told the Union it must show more flexibility in its demands for wide-ranging liberalisation talks if it wants to launch a new round of negotiations this year.
Diplomats say the initial reaction to a European Commission paper for a more adaptable approach to World Trade Organisation talks was generally positive, although some countries still had reservations about the EU's demands.
"They greatly welcomed the Commission's initiative but some are still not sure on the substance," said one.
Some countries are still concerned that the Union will try to force them to sign up to global rules on investment and competition, even though the EU pledged they could opt out of agreements which they felt unable to implement.
Trade diplomats say the results of the soundings at the WTO's headquarters in Geneva will help shape the Union's position. The Swedish presidency has arranged a meeting of trade ministers for 25 February to finalise the EU's stance.
Officials say that once the Union has revised its strategy, negotiations on a possible agenda for a new WTO round could start. This would allow members to decide in July whether to launch talks at the body's ministerial meeting, scheduled to be held in Qatar in November.
Sweden's trade minister, Leif Pagrotsky, told MEPs last week that "paving the way for a decision for a new round is the foremost trade policy goal for the Swedish presidency".
He said that securing the support of developing countries was essential and announced that Sweden had arranged a conference on the status of least-developed countries for May. "It is extremely important for the EU to make a substantial contribution at this conference," he said. "This means above all offering better access to the EU market and augmented technical assistance."
Pagrotsky added that Sweden wants a speedy decision on the Commission's proposal to scrap duties on imports of all products except arms from the world's 48 poorest countries. Next week it is expected to approve a proposal that delays scrapping duties on bananas until 2006 and on rice and sugar until 2008.
The EU's major trading partners have told the Union it must show more flexibility in its demands for wide-ranging liberalisation talks if it wants to launch a new round of negotiations in 2001.