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Ministers meet for second day of trade talks

(AP) -- Agriculture, labour and environmental standards are still dividing trading nations large and small even though they have just five weeks to plan an agenda for trade liberalisation talks, ministers admitted Tuesday.

This content was published on October 26, 1999 - 14:35

(AP) -- Agriculture, labour and environmental standards are still dividing trading nations large and small even though they have just five weeks to plan an agenda for trade liberalisation talks, ministers admitted Tuesday.

The 24 trade ministers meeting in the Swiss city of Lausanne, insisted they had made progress in discovering what was important to each other, but agreed they had not yet narrowed the gaps in any of the most controversial areas.

The World Trade Organisation's 135 members will meet in Seattle at the end of November for a key meeting set to launch a new round of trade talks.

"I think there is a large degree of convergence in the group as a whole. On the other hand, I think there is no question that there are a range of views that will ultimately need to be accommodated," said U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky.

One of the most contentious items is agriculture, where the European Union has faced strong criticism for its massive subsidies program. But EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy insisted that it was a misconception that the EU was not prepared to make concessions in that area.

"We are not at a situation where we have bridged our differences, but we are willing to negotiate on agriculture," Lamy told a news conference.

Developing countries are also insisting more work is needed to bring them the benefits they were promised from the last round, and they reject suggestions that labour standards and environmental protection should be considered within the WTO -- issues which are seen as important by the United States and other developed countries.

Japan is pressing for a review of the WTO's rules, especially on antidumping, to which the United States is opposed.

The WTO members are working on the text of a declaration to be made jointly by all the ministers at Seattle, but very few of the points in it have yet been agreed.

Asked what were the issues on which members actually agreed, WTO Director-General Mike Moore said he thought there was agreement on a number of things.

"I can report to you that there is a common view, not yet locked down, that these negotiations must do more in terms of development; they must look at areas where each side can win such as government procurement, and most colleagues see the benefit to the world economy of electronic commerce," said Moore.

New Zealand Trade Minister Lockwood Smith, speaking after the meeting, was more cautious about what had been achieved in the Lausanne meeting.

I chaired the Asia Pacific Economic Forum this year, and there is a momentum in the APEC region which doesn't exist in this part of the world yet," said Smith, although he said there had definitely been progress.
"What all of this is about is that all of us agree people need more jobs, and there is only one way to do that and that is by economic growth, and there is only one way to get economic growth and that is by freeing up trade.

"Tariffs are bad for you. It is in each of our interests to plan how we get rid of tariffs. I suppose it disappoints me that that doesn't drive more of our work," said Smith.

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