Hopes for WTO deal much greater than in Seattle, says Commission trade chief

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Series Details Vol.7, No.41, 8.11.01, p2
Publication Date 08/11/2001
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Date: 08/11/01

By Peter Chapman

SPEAKING on the eve of the World Trade Organisation conference in Qatar, the European Commission's most senior trade official declared the EU is "better prepared" than it was ahead of the doomed Seattle ministerial two years ago.

Director-general Peter Carl said the chances of delegates striking a deal to begin a new round of trade liberalisation talks were "significantly greater than they were in advance of Seattle" when "mistakes" were made.

The Danish official's mood of optimism ahead of the Gulf talks echoed the words of his political master, Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, who had earlier stated the EU was 80 of the way towards achieving its conference targets. "We just have to achieve the other 20 in Doha," he added.

Carl said the EU was determined the talks would be "more inclusive", in recognition of the needs of developing countries. But he conceded there were a number of potential "deal breakers" with poorer nations opposed to tough environmental and labour protection rules.

He also forecast difficulties with some food exporting nations, which want the Union to drop some or all of its export subsidies to agriculture. He acknowledged there would be a fierce debate over the scope for countries to retain restrictions due to "non-trade concerns" such as animal welfare.

Carl said the EU wanted to ensure that labour standards were included within the trade agenda, even though "there is tremendous opposition from all developing countries to the whole notion that one would introduce labour standards into the WTO". He insisted the EU's goal would "absolutely not" be an excuse for protectionism against developing countries.

Instead, the talks should give the WTO a chance to flag trade concerns with the global body concerned with labour issues, the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation.

He said the same was true on the environment, where the EU was pushing for an update of existing rules - many dating back 54 years. "What we want to do is clarify the rules because they were written a long time ago before [environmental concerns] came to the fore. There are bits and pieces that are difficult to understand, even for experts. "What we have offered our counter-parts is language that would give very clear guarantees against any protectionist measures. But this is one of the most contentious issues, of that there is no doubt."

Carl pointed out the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) bloc of countries had now moved towards the EU's stance on environmental safeguards. On competition policy, the official admitted the current wording of a draft text by WTO diplomats was "vague".

He said the EU did not want to get to a situation where companies could appeal competition case rulings, such as the recent proposed GE/Honeywell merger, to the WTO.Instead the goal would be to ensure that all of WTO members put in place basic competition rules and anti-trust watchdogs.

Meanwhile Carl said the EU was "working very hard behind the scenes to broker a deal at the highest level" with the US, Japan, Switzerland, India and Brazil to clarify the scope for compulsory licensing of medicines protected by patent.

He said the EU wanted trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPs) to remain - while at the same time ensuring developing countries had access to vital medicines such as anti-AIDS drugs. TRIPs already gave countries flexibility, he said, but they needed clarification.

The EU would not be "shoving matters under the carpet," he added.

Report of the EU's preparations for the World Trade Organisation conference, Doha, Qatar, 9-13 November 2001.

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