EU ups stakes over environment in trade round push
GENEVA - The European Union insisted yesterday that negotiations on environmental rules had to be included in a new trade round, upping the stakes in end-game efforts to get fresh liberalisation talks launched next month.
\"Trade and the environment, or the omission of it, is indeed a deal-breaker,\" senior EU official Peter Carl told a news conference, implicitly brushing aside refusal by key developing countries to consider the issue.
At the same time, the United States told envoys at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that it would not renegotiate existing agreements on anti-dumping - an instrument it uses widely to protect parts of U.S. industry against low-priced imports.
And emerging economies and poorer states said they wanted most of the problems they have with earlier WTO pacts resolved before they could consider agreeing on a round when the body holds a ministerial meeting in Qatar from November 9-13.
The contrasting positions emerged after three days of discussions in the 142-member WTO on draft texts for a declaration to be issued by the ministers and an accord on how to handle the developing countries\' complaints.
But diplomats said the starkest differences now on display were over the environmental issue - labelled by Carl at a meeting of the WTO\'s ruling General Council as \"of prime political importance\" to Brussels.
\"It is difficult to believe that we could sink the chances of getting a round over this right now when the world economy so desperately needs some confidence-boosting,\" said one envoy. \"But the way things are going, that is what could happen.\"
POORER COUNTRIES FIRM
India - backed by many other developing countries who account for some three-quarters of the WTO membership - told the General Council environment was a no-go area.
\"We are not prepared to accept any negotiations on any aspect of environment since we are convinced that the existing rules are adequate to protect all legitimate environmental concerns,\" Sri Lanka\'s envoy K.J. Weerasinghe declared.
Poorer WTO members fear the EU stance - backed with varying degrees of vehemence by Japan, Switzerland, Norway and South Korea - is aimed at creating WTO rules that could be used as a pretext to put up new barriers to their goods.
The United States, which has a strong anti-globalisation lobby campaigning partly under a platform of protecting the environment against the \"ravages of free trade\", says it also has environmental concerns.
But it has not been pushing to extend current WTO rules, which already allow members to bar goods which they can show could be a threat to health and food safety.
Carl, leading the EU team in negotiations on the agenda for a round, made clear that for Brussels, talks on the environment were a quid pro quo for agreeing to consider cutting back on subsidies to agriculture.
\"Agriculture is a deal-maker to the extent that you have a great many countries asking us to make major concessions. If we agree to do so, it is a deal-maker because it would bring all those countries on board for a major new round,\" he said.
But one ambassador from a key developing country which has taken a neutral line on the controversial round project questioned the wisdom of the EU stance.
\"We know they have their domestic problem. We all have them,\" he said. \"But if they push this (the environment), they have to understand they will harden positions even among the moderates among us.
\"People on this side will start asking for more, and then we will never agree on anything. They (the EU) will have to step back at some point.\"
Story by Robert Evans
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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