GENEVA (AP)--The European Union is concerned about the slow pace of negotiations to liberalize world trade, and countries cannot afford to be complacent as they try to agree on a new global trade treaty by the end of 2006, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said April 20.
Speaking at a meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Organization, Barroso said it was vital that its 148 member states produce an accord at a year-end summit in Hong Kong, which could lead to a binding treaty next year.
"We have set ourselves ambitious goals, and the Hong Kong ministerial, which should pave the way for a final deal, is just around the corner," Barroso said. "Hong Kong cannot be another missed opportunity."
The current round of treaty talks was launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001. The original plan was to create a new global trade treaty by the end of 2004, but a WTO conference in 2003 collapsed amid bickering over investment rules between rich and poor members, as well as differences on agriculture.
The Doha round aims to slash subsidies, tariffs and other barriers to global commerce, and to use trade to help poor nations. WTO members are aiming to produce an accord at a year-end summit in Hong Kong, which could lead to a binding trade liberalization treaty by the end of 2006.
"It is vital that we make a success of Hong Kong and conclude the (round) as soon as possible thereafter if we are to meet our citizens' expectations for sustainable economic growth, jobs and prosperity," Barroso said.
But many WTO members are not benefiting from the current global trading system, particularly African countries, said Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who also was a featured speaker.
"Today, the trading system is skewed," Kagame told delegates. "This is morally wrong and has far-reaching consequences."
Tariffs and subsidies distort global commerce and increase poverty levels, Kagame said.
"Trade is not an end in itself," Barroso explained. "It is an essential means to deliver a better life for billions of people, a life which should involve schooling when you are young, access to health services, clean water.
"Europe's 450 million citizens take this for granted. But there are millions who cannot," Barroso added.
Talks to cut farm trade subsidies--a crucial part of the Doha agenda--suffered a setback late April 19 as negotiators failed to agree on how most rich countries should calculate their import duties. The technical issue centers on how to convert those import duties--currently expressed in dollars per ton--into percentages, which is required if negotiators are to agree wide-ranging cuts.
Speaking to reporters after the speech, Barroso said he believed it was possible for the E.U. to reach an "amicable agreement" with the United States in a dispute over aircraft subsidies.
A self-imposed deadline to negotiate a settlement of complaints the sides had already filed at the WTO over public subsidies to Boeing Co. and Airbus expired earlier this month without an agreement.
Barroso said that E.U. Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson was looking forward to "constructive, friendly relations with his counterpart in the United States," acting Trade Representative Peter Allgeier.