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Friday, 28 September, 2001, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
WTO talks tough on trade
Expanding free trade: a bigger priority now
Expanding free trade: a bigger priority now
The World Trade Organisation has published a tough plan for global trade negotiations ahead of the planned summit in Doha, in the Gulf state of Qatar, in November.

World leaders have emphasised the need for new round of trade liberalisation talks to go ahead, despite security fears after the terrorist attacks in the United States.

We need a round today more than ever to boost confidence in the global economy, in the multilateral trading system and in international cooperation

Mike Moore, head of WTO
But with just six weeks to go before the meeting, the WTO is calling for concessions on agriculture, textiles and steel from the US, Japan and the EU.

Many developing countries have been reluctant to go along with plans for a new trade round, fearing that new demands for environmental regulation and labour rights will be introduced that would hurt their industries.

The draft rejects new initiatives in these areas, but it may also disappoint developing countries that want accelerated implementation of promises made at the last trade round to open Western markets to textile imports from poor countries.

Timing critical

Trade talks have been on hold since 1999, when mass demonstrations and disagreeements about the agenda prevented the launching of a new trade round in Seattle.

Steel exports: subject of US 'anti-dumping' laws
Steel exports: subject of US 'anti-dumping' laws
Those divisions have not gone away, amid bitterness by some developing countries - notably on the Indian subcontinent - that they have made more concessions that rich countries in the last trade round.

Mike Moore, the director-general of the WTO, said that the new draft was the product of "confessionals" among the key players who outlined their key demands.

"We need a round today more than ever to boost confidence in the global economy, in the multilateral trading system and in international cooperation," he said.

US trade officials were generally supportive of the plan.

"I believe that we certainly can reach agreement on a declaration that would launch a new round," a US official commented.

But the Pakistani ambassador to the WTO, Munir Akram, said that "most of the provisions are a fudge."

A little pain for all

The draft calls for negotiations in agriculture, services, government procurement, and intellectual property rights.

US trade representative Zoellick: talks must go on
US trade representative Zoellick: talks must go on
It also puts the controversial US anti-dumping laws on the agenda - a move which could upset protectionists in the US Congress.

But EU demands for trade rules for investment and competition policy are put on the back burner, with a suggestion the conference should decide whether or not to put them on the agenda.

Implementation will also be discussed at Doha, but only as part of a new agreement - while many developing countries want a modification of the existing agreement before agreeing to a new trade round.

But in a concession to poor countries, talks will take place on modifying patent rights to medicines in order to make cheaper drugs available to countries suffering from the Aids epidemic.

Cancellation ruled out

There had been rumours that the WTO summit would be postponed after other meetings, including the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Washington, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Brisbane, were cancelled.

Earlier this week, the next chief of the WTO, former Thai deputy premier Supachai Panitchpakdi, suggested that the unpredictable environment was eroding the political will for an imminent launch of a new trade round.

But Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok said on Wednesday that a new round of global trade negotiations was more important than ever after the terrorist attacks.

"A successful world trade round is even more important than it was before," he said.

And US trade representative Robert Zoellick, while acknowleding that "the first imperative is security," said that it was important to maintain the momentum for the trade talks.

Negotiations continue

That will require a frenzied round of negotiations over the next few weeks to finalise the trade talk agenda.

Countries will make their first response to the draft proposals next week in Geneva.

Then a final preparatory conference in Singapore on 13-14 October will, it is hoped, lead to a final agreement on the agenda.

That meeting will be attended the four richest trade blocs - the EU, the United States and Canada and Japan - and by representatives of many smaller states, including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Gabon, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, Qatar, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland and Tanzania.

See also:

17 Sep 01 | Business
WTO criticises US trade policies
03 Sep 01 | Business
New hope for WTO trade talks
17 Sep 01 | Business
China enters WTO fold
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