|Vol.7, No.36, 4.10.01, p17
THE World Trade Organisation must hold its next summit as scheduled or give into the "law of the jungle", a leading voice in European business lobby UNICE has warned. Jacques Desponts, board member of BNP Paribas and head of UNICE's specialist trade group, said the raison d'être for the talks, set to take place in Doha, Qatar from 9-13 November, was even more compelling in the light of the terrorist attacks on America.
In an interview with European Voice, he said: "It's maybe even more important today than last month because after these tragic events the word 'recession' is no longer a taboo. If you get the two most important economies in the world, Japan and the US, in the red, the time must not be for protectionism or selfishness; it must be for multilateralism, not unilateralism."
The last time world leaders met to launch a new round of trade talks, at Seattle in December 1999, the talks collapsed amid violence orchestrated by anti-globalisation groups and angry protests led by developing countries who said they stood to lose out. But Desponts warned that another failure in Doha - or an alternative venue if the Gulf state is considered too dangerous given its proximity to the expected targets of US retaliation - could result in unilateral rules being set by powerful nations and the end of the WTO. "I would consider it to be a disaster if we fail - we must take every chance. When I meet people who say we must destroy the WTO and we must not open a new round, that is stupid. When you are in business you know trade and investment means jobs. No WTO would mean the law of the jungle and in the jungle it is the law of the strongest. And let's be honest, we are not the strongest; it is America. It would be a disaster for us and the developing countries."
Failure to get talks under way wouldalso hinder attempts to reach agreement on key emerging issues such as the environment and labour rights. Spelling out his group's priorities for the new round, Desponts said talks should include moves to cut down on tariff barriers and red-tape which hinders imports, and trade in investment and services. In terms of the latter, he said the WTO was a better forum for reaching a deal than the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The OECD - a club of rich countries - has been accused of bullying tactics by trying to draft a code that would punish poor nations which restrict foreign investment. He also said that the new round had a better chance of success in opening trade in services than ongoing diplomatic efforts to clinch a new general agreement on trade in services (GATS) in Geneva.
This is because countries would be willing to give ground on services if they win in other areas, as part of a general round. "Everyone knows that if you open a new round with a comprehensive agenda it would be much easier. One country will say 'if you move on this I will move on that' - that is the way you negotiate. If it is only services alone it would be a technical discussion between technicians, then it is not at all a political discussion," he said.
The World Trade Organisation must hold its next summit as scheduled or give in to the 'law of the jungle', a leading voice in European business lobby UNICE has warned.