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French Version


Fuleihan says April is target for WTO talks... - The Daily Star

Fuleihan says April is target for WTO talks 'onus is on us to submit the offers on time' - The Daily Star

Economy minister warns package must be agreed before Doha round ends.

Lebanon will try its best to hold its second round of talks with World Trade Organization officials in April next year, depending on Lebanese diligence in presenting and tabulating its offers, Economy Minister Basil Fuleihan said Wednesday.

Fuleihan, who chaired a meeting for the WTO accession committee Wednesday, said the timing of Lebanon's second working party meeting hinges on Lebanon's speediness in tabulating its offer to WTO members. "It was evident from our first working party meeting that the onus is on us to submit the offers on time," said Fuleihan. "We have to try and finish negotiating talks as early as possible before the current Doha round of talks is over," said Fuleihan, Lebanon's chief negotiator for WTO accession.

Lebanon, which held its first working party meeting in October this year, is trying to secure entry into the 144-member organization before the Doha round ends by the tentative date of 2005. "If we are unable to finish talks before the Doha round is over, we may have to enter WTO at a higher price," said Fuleihan.

Currently, WTO members are conducting a new round of negotiations, entitled Doha Development Agenda, based on the outcome of the WTO ministerial meeting held in the Qatari capital in November last year. WTO members are due to hold a meeting in Mexico in September this year to reach a final deal on the Doha issues. Lebanon is trying to beat the Cancun deadline, leaving most WTO members without any time to negotiate with Lebanon.

"We should work swiftly in the coming months on tabulating our offers and discussing them within ourselves before we go the WTO," said Fuleihan.

Mustering or not mustering national consensus around WTO issues could delay a second working party meeting. "Internal negotiations among the Lebanese are more important in some ways than our talks with WTO officials, because we have to agree among ourselves on certain issues," said Fuleihan. "The private sector in Lebanon is unlikely to have a uniform opinion on all WTO issues." Fuleihan said members of the private sector would be allowed to visit Geneva to attend WTO negotiations, which are held between states.

However, Lebanon does not have an official negotiating team and is unlikely to form one due to financial constraints. "We cannot afford to have a big team of negotiators," said Fuleihan. "That's why the negotiating team will keep on changing, depending on the talks. Officials from different ministries will be part of the official negotiating team, depending on the topic of negotiations." Lebanon, a former founding member of the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), is counting on a swift entry into the body because of the country's free market economy.

Fuleihan conceded that entry into the WTO could negatively impact certain industries. "Just like the Euro-Med agreement, the WTO entry will come at a price," said Fuleihan. "This price is small to pay. We will have to pay this price even if we stay out of the WTO, because the world trade regime is toeing the free trade line."

Beirut 09-12-2002
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star



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