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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 17:57 GMT
Key issues at Doha
The world trade talks in Doha, Qatar, are an attempt to the set the agenda for the next decade of free trade. BBC News Online looks at the key issues in the debate.

Agriculture

Agriculture became part of the world trade agenda in the last round of talks, but attempts to make massive cuts in the subsidies paid to farmers were blocked by the European Union.

Developing countries want a cut in agricultural subsidies
Developing countries want a cut in agricultural subsidies
Developing countries and other major agricultural producers like Canada and Australia want Western markets to open up for their products.

Analysts argue that trade liberalisation for farm products could achieve the single biggest gain for developing countries.

But other rich countries, like Japan, also heavily subsidise their agriculture, and will be reluctant to fully open their markets.

The United States, which has traditionally led the drive to free up agriculture, will have to decide how hard to push this issue - in opposition to France, where protectionist pressures are strongest.

This could prove one of the most difficult issues to resolve, just as in the last round of talks in 1993.

Services

Back then, another key issue was introduced on the trade agenda, the liberalisation of trade in services. This encompasses banking, tourism, insurance and travel, amongst others.

Talks have been proceeding on a sector-by-sector basis, with much focus on telecoms and financial services so far.

However, momentum for opening up banking services has slowed after the Asian crisis.

And some developing countries now fear that the rich countries will press for further liberalisation of other sectors, such as public utilities, health or education. Critics of free trade say that this could lead to poor people paying more to use these services.

The World Bank argues that service sector liberalisation can benefit the poor if it leads to greater competition and thus lower prices, but acknowledges that any such move would need to be properly regulated.

Service sector negotiations are likely to continue whatever the outcome of the current trade talks.

Intellectual property rights

One of the most contentious clauses introduced in the last round of talks required developing countries to introduce measures to enforce intellectual property rights like patents and copyright.

Poor countries argue that this has prevented them from producing, or importing, cheap generic versions of drugs that are used to treat diseases like Aids.

They want a blanket exemption from the rules in the event of a public health emergency.

The United States has recently invoked this clause itself to ensure supplies of the anti-anthrax antibiotic Cipro.

But both the US and Switzerland, the home of many major pharmaceutical companies, are worried that if patents cannot be protected, companies will not earn enough money to finance research and development of new drugs.

However, many developing countries say that, at the very least, the implementation of these rules should be delayed.

Environment

One of the issue that led to the collapse of the Seattle talks in 1999 to launch a new trade round was the link between trade and the environment.

The EU wants rules to prevent imports of hormone-treated beef
The EU wants rules to prevent imports of hormone-treated beef

Campaigners were worried that rules on free trade would make it impossible to enforce environmental standards, for example on protecting dolphins caught in tuna nets.

Many developing countries, however, are sceptical of such regulations, as they could price them out of the market.

They also fear that new food safety rules could be used as an excuse for protectionism, and argue that trade agreements should be clearly separated from environmental matters.

The European Union has recently endorsed the need for a link between trade and the environment.

The EU is concerned about issues like genetically modified food, where it wants labelling so consumers can be informed about what they are eating.

And the EU has been concerned about food additives like growth hormones added to beef raised in the United States - and wants to operate the "precautionary principle" of taking no risks before food stuff has been proved safe.

But with the EU under pressure from activists like farmer Jose Bove, the issue may be difficult to resolve.

Anti-dumping

The United States will be under serious pressure at Doha to revise its rules on "dumping" - which allows the US government to put up tariff barriers unilaterally if it believes that another country is selling its goods at below the price of production.

Steel imports have become a contentious issue
Steel imports have become a contentious issue

Many countries, including Japan, Brazil and the EU, believe that the US has long been abusing this loophole to protect its domestic industries, especially steel, from foreign competition.

But any attempt to change US domestic laws on dumping will face opposition from trade unionists and politicians, and accusations that the world trade organisation has impinged on US sovereignty.

If the US agrees to put anti-dumping on the table at Doha, it will be a significant concession that would show how keen it is to reach an overall agreement.

Investment policy

The EU has been pushing for incorporating rules on investment by multinationals into international trade rules.

This would give companies the right to establish their operation overseas without fear of interference or nationalisation.

A previous attempt to set up rules in this area, under the auspices of another international organisation, the OECD, collapsed in 1998.

But most other countries feel that going into this area - and the related area of competition policy, concerning rules on monopoly and anti-trust - would be going too far.

They argue that making such an agreement would lead to too much interference with domestic legislation.


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