|Date for WTO talks still uncertain ministry... - The Daily Star
|Date for WTO talks still uncertain ministry official optimistic about early 2003 - The Daily Star
Timing of next round depends on several factors, including world body's schedule and how Beirut prepares its offer.
Lebanon plans to hold its second round of talks with the World Trade Organization in early 2003, but the tentative date depends on both this country's speed in tabulating its offers and the WTO's tight schedule, a senior government official said Monday.
Fadi Makki, the newly appointed director-general of the Economy and Trade Ministry, said the second Working Party meeting should optimally take place during the first quarter of next year.
'But the timing of the second Working Party meeting hinges very much on the WTO, which will be busy next year preparing for the fifth ministerial meeting due to be held (next) September in Cancun, Mexico,' Makki told a round-table discussion on the WTO organized by the International Chamber of Commerce. 'Lebanon will also have to prepare its offer to the WTO.'
If Lebanon cannot hold the meeting in early 2003, the second round of talks may have to be put off until the end of the year, according to Makki.
'It is practically impossible to achieve any progress in negotiations in the six months preceding Cancun,' said Makki. 'That's why we need to work on our offers to beat the September 2003 concession.'
The fifth ministerial meeting in Cancun iinteded to determine the scope of new agreements that will come out of the Doha Development Agenda, the new round of negotiations taking place among the WTO's 144 members.
Makki had accompanied Economy and Trade Minister Basil Fuleihan, Lebanon's chief WTO negotiator, to Geneva two weeks ago when Lebanon held its first Working Party meeting.
The meeting, which was held between Oct.14-15, was of an introductory nature, heralding Lebanon's induction into the 144-nation exclusive trade club.
The real negotiating starts with the second Working Party meeting, in which Lebanon must present its specific offers to WTO members.
Lebanon, which gained observer status in the organization in 1999, has not yet formed an official negotiating team for the event, however.
'In our first Working Party meeting, we also began bilateral talks and started receiving questions from specific countries,' added Makki, who had helped Qatar gain membership in the WTO.
Negotiations in WTO take place at two levels: multilateral talks involving all 144 members and one-on-one bilateral talks between one country and certain WTO members that might have extra requests.
'Before we hold the second Working Party meeting, we need to tabulate our commitments on tariffs to form the basis of bilateral negotiations,' Makki said.
'I do not expect to face any problems during these negotiations as Lebanon has already slashed its tariffs to low rates. Some 85 percent of Lebanon's tariffs are under 5 percent.'
The second item on the agenda will be services, which are divided into 11 sectors.
'Negotiations over the service sector usually take place bilaterally,' Makki said. 'In our offer on services, we could maintain the status quo and on that basis conduct negotiations.'
Lebanon's services sector, Makki argued, is almost open, which will decrease the pressure on Lebanon to concede much to WTO members.
As for agriculture, Lebanon would have to find a new mechanism for its export-subsidy program, Export Plus, because the WTO does not allow export subsidies but has room for other forms of financial backing.
'Paradoxically, WTO is not a free-trade regime,' Makki said. 'It is an organized regime.'
Such organization has allowed blocs to maintain expensive agricultural subsidy programs, such as the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, which gobbles up nearly half of its annual budget of 95 billion euros ($93 billion).
'For developing countries, the ceiling for subsidies is usually set at 10 percent of agricultural production,' Makki said. 'We will be required to set a ceiling for our subsidies.'
The elimination of subsidies is one of the eight crucial negotiations tracks of the Doha round. As for the industrial sector, Makki said Lebanon is unlikely to face much trouble there either.
'Lebanon does not have any state-backing of industries to speak of,' Makki said.
But the imposition of import licenses or a total ban on certain imports such as cement will have to disappear under WTO, to be replaced by other legal protective measures such as tariffs or tariff quotas.
Equally of importance for Lebanon is monitoring the Doha Development Agenda, which will introduce new commitments that Lebanon will have to be aware of.
'It will be disastrous if we do not follow up on Doha, which is a new round in every sense of the word,' Makki said, adding: 'The requirements of Doha are no less important than acceding to WTO.'
Makki sought to alleviate the fears of all businessmen who contend that entry to the WTO may spell the doom of a country in financial turmoil.
'Entry into the WTO will not bring about any negative repercussions or exacerbate our economic and financial troubles,' Makki insisted.
He further argued that Lebanon could not afford to stay outside the WTO, which has been lambasted by anti-globalization activists for destroying the economies of developing countries.
'Staying out of this exclusive trade club is not a realistic choice,' said Makki.
Accession to the WTO, according to Makki, will reap two kinds of benefits: 'Automatic benefits for morale due to Lebanon's accession to an exclusive club, as well as nonautomatic benefits, which can only be reaped if Lebanon makes full use of the reforms and legislation brought about by the WTO.'
The Daily Star