Brussels strategy to move Doha forward?

Related tags Europe World trade organization European union

When 145 countries walked away from the negotiating table at the
World Trade Organisation meeting in Cancun in September,
disappointment hung in the air over a failure to make real
progress. Since then bureaucrats and politicians have been busy
sifting through the debris to hammer together a way forward.

In Brussels yesterday, Europe adopted a strategy paper aimed at contributing to the re-launch of the Doha talks.

Slammed as protectionists, developing countries criticised Europe and the United States at the Cancun talks for their intransigent position over farm aid.

At the time EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler staunchly defended Europe's position, attesting that recent reform to the €45 billion subsidised Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) would deal with 'trade-distorting' features of the old CAP.

Brushing aside criticisms that Europe was responsible for the breakdown in talks, Fischler said after the event that it was difficult to accept the idea that agricultural subsidies in the developed world were responsible for the breakdown, 'given that we didn't even reach this issue in the discussions'.

In Fischler's eyes, Europe bent over backwards to make Cancun work. "First, we were told that we had to reform our common agricultural policy (CAP) for the talks to be a success: so we did.

Then we were told that unless we settled our differences with the Americans, the talks would fail. So in August we worked hard with our American partners to put together a compromise paper that would allow the talks to proceed."

The strategy position adopted by the Commission yesterday in Brussels tows a strong line, putting particular emphasis on the importance of the multilateral system and a willingness from all parties concerned.

'The input received leads the Commission to conclude that the fundamental objectives of the EU in this negotiation remain valid: a clear preference for a multilateral trade system, a strong rules-making component alongside market access and the need to ensure that the negotiations do deliver a development round,'​ said the Commission in a statement on Wednesday.

Commenting on the communication which was sent to the Council and Parliament yesterday, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said: "After the failure in Cancun, it was clear that "business as usual" was not an option. We needed to have a deep look into what went wrong in Cancun and draw the necessary conclusions.

We have listened carefully to all points of view inside and outside Europe, and we believe there is now enough support to get the train back on track. Indeed, the very strong feeling inside the Commission is that the multilateral system should be the EU's priority number one to harness globalisation, to deliver on EU objectives, and to secure a real development round."

But he also said: "The clear lesson of Cancun is that no single player or group of players can deliver the Round or make the multilateral system work on his own.

We need a major effort from all sides if we are to re-launch this year. Such efforts were rarely on show in Cancun, and a repeat of this would mean disaster for the multilateral system, and an effective end to the Round. "

Lamy also hinted that Europe would be willing to make further adjustments to its position in order to move the Round forward.

But Fischler is determined that Europe shall not be a push over. Commenting on the proposal he said yesterday : 'We fully acknowledge that developed countries have to do more than developing countries, but the strong exporters have to do their bit as well.

If we want to make progress, it is essential that the distinction between the trade distorting impact of different policies is clearly recognised. If not, why bother to reform?'

Member States and the European Parliament will now consider the Commission strategy paper. Lamy is hopeful that Europe will be ready by mid-December for discussions in Geneva. Fischler added that he will 'seize the opportunity' at the FAO Summit from 1-2 December in Rome to discuss Europe's position with 'our trading partners, in particular with developing countries'.

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