Senior officials from Japan, the United States, Canada and the 15-nation European Union will hold secret talks in Ottawa next month to coordinate policy toward a new round of global trade liberalization negotiations, government sources said Friday.
The sources said that topping the agenda at the quadrilateral talks, which will be held for two days from June 21, will be electronic commerce, services and investment.
Among the Japanese officials participating in the meeting will be Masakazu Toyoda, director general of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry’s International Economic Affairs Department, the sources said.
The new round was originally supposed to be launched early this year under the sponsorship of the World Trade Organization, the Geneva-based watchdog on international commerce. However, the plans have stalled because more than 130 members of the WTO failed at a ministerial meeting in Seattle in December to set an agenda for the new round.
The Ottawa meeting will probably be the first among high-level officials from the world’s four major economic powers, at least outside Geneva, since the collapse of the Seattle meeting.
In Seattle, participants failed to agree on a specific agenda for the new round, due largely to sharp differences among the industrialized countries over a possible review of international antidumping rules and some other issues.
Japan, backed by the EU and others, insisted on putting a review of antidumping rules on the agenda for the new WTO round to prevent a possible abuse of the rules by WTO members, especially the U.S., which has toughened its antidumping policy in recent years against Japanese and other foreign steel imports.
In the face of strong political pressure from the domestic steel industry and labor unions, the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton rejected the Japan and other countries’ calls for a review of the antidumping rules in the new round.
There is an optimistic view among a few Japanese officials that now that the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bitterly contested bill granting permanent normal trade relations to China, the Clinton administration, long preoccupied with the issue, may begin to put its energy into getting the new WTO round launched early.
But pessimism prevails among most officials, who doubt the new round will be launched before the U.S. presidential election in early November.
In fact, Clinton has toned down his rhetoric about the new WTO round in recent months.
Clinton told Foreign Minister Yohei Kono at a White House meeting in February that it was important for the round to be launched before a July summit in Okinawa of the Group of Eight countries — the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia. But when Clinton met with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori at the White House last month, he simply said he hopes the new round will be launched by the end of this year.
Issues topping the agenda for the Ottawa meeting — electronic commerce, services and investment — are all areas in which the industrialized countries have a strong competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
It was not known, however, if the four major economic powers will try in Ottawa to resolve antidumping and other issues that have sharply divided them.