QATAR: WTO to Launch New Trade Talks

Publisher Name: 
Associated Press

DOHA, Qatar -- They went down to the wire and then some, but delegates at the World Trade Organization conference formally agreed Wednesday on starting a new round of negotiations to further lower barriers to trade.

It will be a years-long process aimed primarily at reducing tariffs on goods and services as well as opening markets and setting trade rules for rich and poor countries alike.

Those areas were especially important to developing nations, which argue previous trade deals have favored the interests of industrial countries.

Two years after an attempt at the same task collapsed amid riots and tear gas in Seattle, diplomats were jubilant at successfully completing this session, which also included approval of membership for China and Taiwan.

''This has been a historic time,'' said the WTO's director-general, Mike Moore. ''In a world often divided, we have done something important.''

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the WTO had sent a powerful signal ''of growth, development and prosperity throughout the world.''

''We've removed the stain of Seattle,'' he said.

Beyond the achievement of launching talks, delegates also hope their agreement will ''inject optimism'' into a gloomy global economy and send a message of unity and determination to a world shaken by the terror attacks on the United States.

The Sept. 11 attacks ''encouraged us all to look beyond our narrow horizons and to think about the bigger picture,'' the European Union's trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy, said.

After six days and nights of bargaining -- one more than planned -- officials from 142 WTO members adopted what Zoellick called a ''constructive agenda'' for the new talks that focuses on lowering tariffs on a wide range of industrial and agricultural goods and services.

Separate statements focus on the needs of developing countries, which Moore admitted were ''not listened to enough'' in Seattle, contributing to the failure there.

''We now have a 'Doha Development Agenda' ... with something for everyone,'' Moore said.

One declaration clarifying rules on when and how poor countries facing public health crises can override patents for expensive Western drugs was welcomed even by some of the aid groups that protested in Seattle.

''Countries can ensure access to medicines without fear of being dragged into a legal battle,'' said Ellen 't Hoen of the humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Pharmaceutical industry groups were more cautious about the agreement, but said it should not threaten investment in developing new drugs.

Another declaration promises action on what poor nations see as slow implementation of promises made to them in the last round of trade talks, which ended in 1994.

Early concessions from Washington and a late one from the European Union helped bring the developing countries on board, officials said.

The United States agreed to a review of rules that allow the imposition of penalty duties on goods that are ''dumped'' on a market at below cost. America is one of the biggest users of ''anti-dumping'' duties, usually against steel or textiles from developing countries.

Zoellick, however, won assurance that rules on subsidies behind low-cost goods also will be scrutinized and tightened.

An equally crucial compromise was reached Wednesday after all-night talks with the EU on farm export subsidies, which almost everyone except the Europeans wants to eliminate.

In the final text, the words ''phasing out'' remain, but are preceded by ''without prejudging the outcome of the negotiations.''

In return, other countries accepted EU demands that the new talks take into account some environmental issues.

For example, the EU wants to clarify how agreements like the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas emissions relate to the WTO and whose rules take precedence in case of conflict.

India initially refused to go along with that. But then it agreed not to block consensus on starting a new round of trade talks in exchange for a delay of at least two years in negotiations on new rules to protect investment, make government procurement more open and other such issues.

India also had wanted rich countries, mainly the United States and Canada, to agree to quicker reductions in limits on imports of textiles. Diplomats said India dropped that demand with the understanding the issue would be discussed in one of the WTO committees.

AMP Section Name:Trade Justice