BRUSSELS – European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said Monday he will meet with Japanese officials during his visit to Japan this week to discuss the European Union’s new approach to launching a new round of global trade talks under the World Trade Organization.
“I will review the position we are taking jointly and the modifications (to) our position” with Japanese partners, including Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, Lamy told reporters.
Lamy’s visit, scheduled for Thursday through Sunday, will be the third of its kind, and is targeted primarily at establishing ties with new members of the Japanese Cabinet, formed in December, and reaffirming the relationship between the two sides.
The European Commission, the executive body of the 15-member EU, has submitted a revised strategy paper to EU member states and the European Parliament, Lamy said.
It contains an “escape clause” in the area of investment and competition, said a Japanese trade official, by which a new round of negotiations could be launched in conjunction with talks on other issues, but from which each WTO member state would be able to abstain from endorsing.
The revised approach, aimed at demonstrating the EU’s flexibility, is a bid to bring developing countries to a new round, as many of them are not in favor of multilateral trade agreements on investment and competition.
The EU and Japan, both advocates of “a comprehensive trade round,” are pressing to have these topics included in the talks, despite poorer countries’ fears that their industries could be jeopardized by investment liberalization.
“The absence of this (negotiation on investment and competition) will be a big hole in the multilateral trade system. But how do we get there? That is the question,” Lamy said.
“A number of countries decided that it was better to have a plurilateral agreement rather than multilateral nothing,” Lamy added, citing the example of a previous agreement on government procurement under which WTO member states took the same approach as the commission now plans to introduce.
Japan supports the strategy “in principle,” said one Japanese official, but added it could be a “double-edged” approach because it could be a long time before every WTO member state is committed to the agreements, if ever.
Japan and the EU have called on WTO Director General Mike Moore to come up with a basic agenda for a new round of talks by July.
The WTO agreed last week to hold its fourth ministerial meeting in Qatar from Nov. 9 to 13.
WTO ministers failed to launch a new round at their previous meeting in December 1999 in Seattle, due largely to differences over antidumping, environmental and labor protection issues.
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