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WTO talks to start next phase in early December - Beirut expected to seek higher tariffs (Daily Star)

Lebanon is expected to hold its second round of talks with the World Trade Organization by early December this year, beginning real negotiations to join the global trade body, according to the director-general of the Economy and Trade Ministry.

“We expect to hold our second Working Party meeting either end of November or early December, if we submit our offers in the first week of November,” said Fadi Makki.

Lebanon is expected to present its offers on goods and agriculture at the second round of talks in Geneva, the headquarters of the 148-member trade body. Economy and Trade Minister Marwan Hamade, Lebanon’s chief WTO negotiator, discussed the timing of the second Working Party meeting at the meeting held last month in the Mexican resort of Cancun.

Hamade led a high-ranking Lebanese delegation to the meet, the first Lebanese ministerial team to participate in the WTO ministerial meeting.

Lebanon held its first Working Party meeting in October of 2002 and was expected to hold the second in the first half of this year. But the government reshuffle in April and WTO preoccupation with Cancun delayed the second meeting.

Lebanon’s WTO team was supposed to present at the second Working Party its offer on goods, agricultural and services, but the ministry decided to keep the third offer outside the talks.

Lebanon’s offer on goods is expected to include a rate higher than the current tariff rates applied on agricultural and industrial imports. The team will also present a list of agricultural subsidy programs in Lebanon.

Makki said the ministry plans to stick to the rates, with a view to negotiating protection for sensitive products.

The ministry is also expected this year to hold a second round of free trade talks with the four-nation European Free Trade Area, an agreement among non-European Union members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. “We are also initiating with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) talks on a free trade agreement,” said Makki. He said a free trade agreement with the six-nation GCC, the main importer of Lebanese goods, will be easier to apply than the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) due to enter into force by 2005. “GCC countries do not have as many non-tariff barriers,” he said.

Lebanon has complained some signatories to GAFTA are not properly implementing the agreement and are harming Lebanon’s markets.

Roy Badaro, head of the Euro-WTO unit at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the government should not rush to sign agreements without consulting the private sector. “Before entering into negotiations, we need to see how competitive these markets are with our goods,” said Badaro, who was part of the Lebanese team in Cancun. “Fifty-five products represent 95 percent of our exports and these should be protected in any WTO negotiations.” He said the main threat in WTO came from the Far East.

Beirut 12-10-2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star

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