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Led by Hamade, WTO negotiating team leaves for Geneva round (Daily Star)

Prospects for success good, members say ahead of second session

The team negotiating Lebanon’s entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO) has left for Geneva to attend the second round of talks this week that will set into motion real negotiations over liberalizing the agricultural, industrial and service sectors.
Economy and Trade Minister and chief WTO negotiator Marwan Hamade is leading the delegation for three days of talks that began Wednesday and will focus on Lebanon’s offer on agricultural tariffs and industrial tariffs.

“We expect to have multilateral and bilateral negotiations during the second Working Party meeting,” Hamade told The Daily Star.

“Multilateral talks take place among some 20 countries and four economic blocs ­ the United States, Australia, the European Union and Japan ­ have requested bilateral talks. We need a unanimous approval from all blocs to enter the WTO.”

Lebanon held its first round of talks or Working Party meetings with the Geneva-based trade body last October. The first meeting, led by Hamade’s predecessor, Beirut MP Basil Fuleihan, was of an introductory nature. The second meeting was due to be held in mid-2003, but a Cabinet reshuffle in Lebanon, and the preoccupation of WTO members with a ministerial meeting in Mexico, put off the second meeting till the end of this year. “We expect to get good feedback from the meeting, which will focus mainly on our tariff offers and legislation,” said Hamade. “I expect talks on liberalizing the services sector to start in the third meeting.”

The minister, who will address the multilateral committee on Thursday, said he would present to WTO officials a macroeconomic view of Lebanon and the legislation undertaken to comply with WTO rules. “We have informed them about a package of legislation such as consumer protection and anti-dumping laws that have been referred to Parliament for approval,” said Hamade.

Many members of the private sector are particularly worried about the protection of sensitive goods in the agriculture and industrial sectors that they will get under WTO membership, particularly as Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s government slashed most tariffs in 2000. “We are conducting negotiations on the basis of pre-2000 reductions in tariffs and we will be asking for the protection of sensitive products in the agriculture and industrial sectors,” said Hamade. “But we don’t know if they would accept it.”

Lebanon has set the end of 2004 as a target date for joining the WTO, which gave Lebanon observer status in 1999.

The delegation that went to Geneva included members from the private sector, who are demanding a greater say in the way the government brings down trade barriers.

Roy Badaro, head of the EuroMED-WTO unit at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the issue of pushing the pre-2000 tariffs onto the WTO negotiating table is likely to dominate the second Working Party meeting. “We have to see whether they will accept sticking to the pre-2000 levels,” said Badaro. “We have done the right thing in using the old tariffs in view of the government’s decisions that were taken back then.”

The 2000 cuts reduced most duties on industrial imports to an average of 5 percent, a level that irked industrialists suffering from increased competition from cheap imports and high productions costs. Badaro said Lebanon’s chances were helped by developed nations’ eagerness to bring developing countries into the multilateral trade system.

Beirut 07-12-2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star



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