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Lebanon submits offers to WTO Second round of talks due Dec. 4 (Daily Star)

Lebanon submits offers to WTO Second round of talks due Dec. 4 - Economy and trade minister will head negotiating team that will go to Geneva, headquarters of international group

Lebanon plans to hold its second round of negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Dec. 4 after submitting its offers on goods and agriculture and preparing its offers on services, the Economy and Trade Ministry said Thursday.

“The second Working Party meeting has been set for Dec. 4,” said Fadi Makki, director general of the Economy and Trade Ministry. “We have submitted our offers on goods and agriculture and we plan to finalize our offer on services in the next two weeks.”

Lebanon held its first round of negotiations or Working Party meeting in October of last year and was due to hold the second meeting in the first quarter of this year, but a Cabinet reshuffle in Lebanon and the WTO’s preoccupation with a ministerial meeting in Mexico this September put off talks. Lebanon’s first meeting was introductory in nature, but the second meeting will begin real negotiations to reduce or maintain tariffs on industrial and agricultural imports to Lebanon and liberalize the service sector.

Economy and Trade Minister Marwan Hamade will head the Lebanese negotiating team to Geneva, the headquarters of the 146-member trade body. “For industries and agriculture we have sent offers of rates higher than the rates presently applied,” explained Makki. “For example, goods that now carry between 0 and 5 percent we have raised to 10 percent.”

He said they also put in offers at higher rates for sensitive agricultural and industrial goods, such as cement. The Lebanese negotiating team will also submit its initial offer on services, which are divided into over 150 sub-sectors under the WTO. “We will provide commitments in 40 to 60 sub-sectors of services,” said Makki. “We will maintain the status quo, which right now means open.”

Most of the sub-sectors to be included in Lebanon’s offers are already open in the Lebanese economy, like financial services and telecommunications.

Lebanon, which became an observer in the WTO in 1999, set a tentative date before the end of 2004 for entry to the WTO before the Doha Development Agenda, WTO’s latest round of talks, came into effect. But the collapse of the talks among WTO members at the Cancun ministerial meeting this September has delayed the conclusion of the Doha round and given Lebanon more time to negotiate. “We expect to conclude talks with the WTO by early 2005,” said Makki.

The ministry is also in the process of concluding trade talks with the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), which is made up of four European countries which are not members of the EU: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Makki said that a group from EFTA would arrive in Lebanon between Dec. 13 and 21.

Beirut 17-11-2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star

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