Seattle success depends on new round, comprehensive agenda

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 28 July -- The Seattle Ministerial meeting of the WTO would be a success only if it launches a new round of multilateral trade negotiations with a comprehensive agenda, a top official of the European Commission, Mr. Peter Carl told a news conference Wednesday.

Carl, deputy director-general for external relations of the EC Commission at Brussels, said the EC had already tabled proposals on agriculture, services, industrial tariffs, trade facilitation, competition, investment and government procurement.

The EC would also be presenting Thursday specific proposals on 'coherence' and capacity building - for the World Bank, IMF and the WTO working together to sustain the future negotiating process and help developing countries in a practical way to "adjust to the practical consequences of future liberalisation".

The EC official, in town for meetings of the 'invisibles group' of key nations at the WTO, and for formal and informal meetings of the General Council in the socalled proposal-driven phase of preparations for the Seattle meeting, before the summer recess, claimed increasing support from WTO members and participants for the EC initiatives.

The EC would not support at Seattle any proposal meant to benefit solely any one country or group which does not reflect the balanced interests of all members. The only exception could be for a decision favouring the least developed countries, for whose benefit there should be commitment at Seattle by all industrialized countries and the 'more advanced' developing countries, to provide their exports duty-free access.

Seattle would be a success only if it adopts a truly comprehensive agenda for a new round. The EC approach would not neglect the development and environment aspects, which have been of concern to civil society. In addition to the decision to launch a new round, ministers at Seattle must adopt a decision to grant tariff-free treatment to imports from LDCs. The meeting should also clarify the issues and the rules on the inter-face between trade and environment.

The US, he complained, had been very reticent on a new round and its agenda. The US authorities still seemed to be consulting civil society and the Congress and the EC hope between now and Seattle, the US would formulate a positive approach and in accord with their commitments at the OECD and Quad (Canada, EC, Japan and USA) meetings to have a substantial negotiating agenda.

On the question of electronic commerce (high on the US agenda) and continuance of the standstill on tariffs, Carl said the EC would not agree to a prolongation of the standstill unless there was agreement by Seattle on a satisfactory outcome of the work programme including a balanced package of trade principles, covering issues of domestic regulations, anti-competitive practices and clarifying the application of rules of the General Agreement on Trade in Services.

The work programme on trade principles, could include a continued moratorium on tariffs, to become definitive on completion of the work programme at a future stage. The tariff issue, he said, had little importance.

The EC official dismissed as a 'canard', charges that the EC was trying to bring on the agenda a large number of issues in order to dilute the focus on agriculture or avoid making more concessions. (SUNS4487)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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