Lamy: the EU is under pressure to compromise
A row over imports of tuna and bananas to
the European Union has been settled, removing a major roadblock to a final
agreement to launch a new trade round.
Trade ministers from 142 countries are
working past their deadline of midnight in an attempt to reach a deal which
would open the way to fresh global trade talks.
World Trade Organisation (WTO) spokeman
Keith Rockwell said there were still major players who had "significant
difficulties" with key issues that need resolution - including
agriculture, environment, investment and textiles.
But the settlement of the unexpected
dispute - which involved a waiver for a pre-existing trade pact between the
EU and ACP countries which others viewed as unfair - has cleared one hurdle
to a deal.
Old issues reappear
The dispute arose because the EU has a
special deal with its former colonies, the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP)
countries, which gives them trade preferences.
The EU and the ACP countries wanted the WTO
to give that deal its seal of approval at this trade summit.
But countries who felt they have been
disadvantaged by the deal, notably Ecuador - which would like to sell more
bananas to the EU - and Thailand and the Philippines, who export tuna, wanted
some concessions before they agreed to the waiver which will permit the
The issue could have unravelled the whole
summit because under WTO procedures, which are based on consensus, all
countries must agree before a decision can be taken.
Agriculture remains the key
If this issue can be resolved, the trade
talks will come down to whether a compromise can be fashioned on the issues
of agriculture and the environment.
The EU has been under pressure to abandon
its tough line on agriculture.
But it is hoping for some movement on
environment in return, an issue where European public opinion feels strongly.
A senior UN official told the BBC that he
had detected some movement on the environment issue, with an accelerated
timetable and the possibility of environmental impact statements.
Other countries, especially from the Cairns
group of agricultural exporting nations, are pressing the EU to reduce its
generous agricultural subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy, worth
$90bn a year.
They say the aim of negotiations should be
a "substantial reduction in, with a view towards phasing out,
agricultural export subsidies."
The French economy minister Laurent Fabius
said that "no European" could accept such a clause, as it implies a
pre-determined end-point for the negotiation.
But the EU admitted that it was isolated on
this issue, with even Japan - which has a highly protected agricultural
sector - unwilling to back the EU line.
However, with all 15 EU countries having to
agree any trade deal negotiated at Doha, and with France facing elections
early next year, there will be a long night of negotiations ahead.
EU negotiators, who are under the most
pressure to make concessions, have said that they cannot exclude the
possibility of leaving the talks if they do not get more progress on
agriculture and the environment.
Press spokesman Anthony Gooch told
reporters that Europe had given a lot without gaining very much in return so
World leaders have set high hopes on
agreement, in order to send a signal that collective action to help revive
the slowing world economy is possible.
Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 21:40 GMT