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French Version

Beirut gears up for 2nd round of WTO talks economy Ministry aiming for october meet (Daily Star)

Delays in negotiations could undermine plans to join trade club by end of 2004
Lebanon plans to hold its second round of talks with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October, after it failed to set a date prior to the trade body’s ministerial meeting in Mexico next month, Economy Minister Marwan Hamade said Monday.

“We expect to hold the first round by the end of October,” Hamade said. “We will set a specific date for the second round when we meet with the secretary-general of the WTO in Cancun,” said Marwan Hamade, referring to the Mexican city hosting the fifth WTO ministerial meeting this September.

Lebanon held its first round of talks with the WTO in October 2002 and was expected to hold the second meeting in the first half of this year. However, the Cabinet reshuffle in April, delays in drafting Lebanon’s offers to the organization and its preoccupation with preparations for the Cancun meeting put off the second round.

Delays in holding a second round could undermine Lebanon’s plan to join the trade body by the end of 2004, before the current Doha negotiating round among WTO’s 146 members produces addition- al agreements.

Ministers of WTO member countries are meeting in Cancun to reach agreements on a slew of contentious issues such as market access of agricultural goods to developed countries, dispute settlement and patented drugs. “This is the first time Lebanon officially participates in a WTO ministerial meeting,” said Hamade, referring to Lebanon’s participation in Cancun.

Lebanon did not actively take part in 1999’s WTO round in Seattle, which was marked by violent anti-globalization protests. The Beirut government boycotted the 2001 ministerial meeting in the Qatari capital of Doha because Israel participated in the meeting, Hamade said. “We needed to prepare three documents for the October meeting,” Hamade said. “The ACC/4 document on Lebanon’s agricultural subsidies, our offer on services and our offer on goods.”

The ACC/4 document details the type of agricultural subsidies granted to farmers in Lebanon, which may have to be altered to conform to WTO rules. Lebanon is currently working on its offers to liberalize its service and goods sectors.

Director-general of the Economy and Trade Ministry and former WTO advisor to Qatar, Fadi Makki, said the ministry’s policy is to maintain the current status of the service sector in Lebanon, which is relatively open. “Our offer on goods will be based on our customs duties. Negotiations will take place on sectors that need protection,” he said.

Lebanon is a founding member of WTO’s predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), but it later withdrew from the organization without giving an official reason. Analysts say Lebanon and Syria’s withdrawal was linked to Israel’s expected entry to the GATT. “Lebanon withdrew from the GATT because it came under pressure, and these pressures still exist today,” said Hamade.

Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East at odds with Israel and the United States have faced obstacles in applying for WTO membership.

Iran and Syria have applied to the body, but their applications have not been accepted. The Arab League has yet to be accepted as an observer in the WTO. “The WTO has a dose of politics,” said Hamade. “We need to coordinate our stance with Arab countries, although not all of them work in unison.”

Half of the 22-nations that make up the Arab League have joined the WTO and five others are waiting to join.

Beirut 18-08-2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star

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