German, Russian doubts aired on EU-US trade push

The News (Pakistan) | 18 January 2007

German, Russian doubts aired on EU-US trade push

BERLIN: Senior officials from Germany and Russia warned on Wednesday against pursuing any free trade agreement between the European Union and United States which might endanger a broader multilateral deal under the WTO.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to pursue a common transatlantic market during Germany’s presidency of the EU and reiterated in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday such a deal was in the interests of the bloc.

But Deputy Economy Minister Bernd Pfaffenbach, Merkel’s top economic adviser for G8 summits, said a transatlantic free trade agreement (TAFTA) could be dangerous because it could alienate partners and harm the Doha round of multilateral trade talks just as it is regaining momentum.

“It is true I see this critically if it leads to an exclusive club,” he told reporters in Berlin. “In this sense, I have said it would be very dangerous for the Doha round and I’m convinced of that.”

Pfaffenbach, who was speaking alongside his Russian counterpart Igor Shuvalov, said he expected Germany to discuss closer economic ties with the United States at an EU-US summit scheduled for April 30.

But he said the scope for dismantling trade barriers between the partners was very limited.

“There really isn’t much to do there. You really have to look hard to find areas where progress can be made,” he said, citing intellectual property and the cutting of regulations as two possible areas.

Shuvalov said Russia, which is not a member of the WorldTrade Organisation (WTO), supported the Doha round of trade talks and might have problems with a parallel deal.

“Naturally we don’t want any parallel agreements that are directed against Russia,” he said. “Of course we would never support that.”

Merkel has also said she supports the Doha round and does not want the pursuit of a transatlantic common market to endanger those talks.

Earlier on Wednesday, WTO chief Pascal Lamy said the Doharound of stalled global trade discussions were getting a fresh push from key political leaders.

Some discussion has resumed at a technical level and there have been a flurry of meetings between top negotiators in the past week, including between Lamy and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

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source: The News