Jakarta Post | Business and Investment | September 09, 2004
’Singapore issues’ part of EU’s trade agenda: Lamy
We always use bilateral free trade agreements to move things beyond WTO standards. By definition, a bilateral trade agreement is "WTO plus".
— Pascal Lamy
The World Trade Organization (WTO) general council meeting agreed last month to include trade facilitation in the negotiation agenda of the Doha round. Trade facilitation is one of the four components of the "Singapore issues."
The reemergence of the Singapore issues, brought back by the industrialized countries, was opposed by developing nations during last year’s WTO Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico, and was seen as one of the key factors contributing to the collapse of the WTO talks.
But despite the rejection, three of the components including investment, competition policies, and transparency in government procurement apparently emerged during a recent meeting here between trade ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union aimed at seeking ways to boost trade and economic cooperation between the two regions.
The EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy talked with The Jakarta Post’s Zakki P. Hakim on the sidelines of the consultation meeting over the issue.
The following is an excerpt of the interview:
Question: Is the EU pushing the rest of the Singapore issues through a regional and bilateral approach?
Answer: Well, trade facilitation has been launched now. The three others are on some sort of a back burner in the WTO. They are not part of the Doha round.
We always use bilateral free trade agreements to move things beyond WTO standards. By definition, a bilateral trade agreement is "WTO plus". Whether it is about investment, intellectual property rights, tariff structure, or trade instrument, in each bilateral free trade agreement we have the "WTO plus" provision.
Now investment, public (government) procurement and competition are areas which we are always addressing in our bilateral free trade agreements.
Take South Africa, Mexico or Chile. Look at the Chile-EU free trade agreement, all of these issues are in there. Look at our agenda in the negotiation with the Mercosur (South American economic group, grouping Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia), or the six regional agreements we are now negotiating with the pacific countries — with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
All these so-called "Singapore Issues" have been part of our bilateral trade agenda. So they will be part of our bilateral trade agenda with this region (ASEAN). No doubt about it. But it is not new. It started before we asked this (for the issues to be included) in the multilateral framework and it will not stop because only trade facilitation has been agreed upon for the multilateral negotiation.
By definition, a bilateral free trade agreement is "WTO plus" or "plus plus" including these sectors.
Last month after the meeting in Geneva, you said that WTO was the United Nations of trade. What exactly did you mean by that?
Although it is trade, economy and business related, the structure of the WTO is very much like the UN. It is multilateral, it is consensus-based. Developing countries and developed countries have now the same sort of stance. They have the same weight around the table.
You have to create a coalition.
You can see that the G-20 and G-90 for instance are a sort of coalition that resembles the coalitions within the UN framework like the G-77.
So the ambience of the negotiation, I mean, the way decisions are shaped and structured, are more UN than like the IMF for example.
So it is genuinely multilateral.
The big difference is there is no security council. It is a 147-member security council, which is probably one of the reasons why developing countries have such an important stake in the WTO, because they know their card in the decision making is larger and stronger than in other institutions.
And the challenge of the WTO, I believe, is to combine the sort of efficiency the system has.
It is efficient, notably because of the dispute settlement system which is not only where you decide on rules but these rules are to be implemented and if they are not implemented, there is a big disciplinary machinery. So it is efficient.
The question is combining efficiency and legitimacy. It is a bit like the UN problematique.
How will you keep the pot warm for your successor in continuing negotiation with the region, considering that you are leaving in November?
The EU trade policy is an oil tanker. It is heavy, solid and not that flexible. We do not change the road very easily but it is very predictable and constant so there is no risk that things which we have decided during this commission will suddenly change.
The shaping factors of the EU trade policy are quite constant. There may be nuances here and there of political stances, but the geopolitics of that do not change. And especially not the sort which (would affect the building of) closer ties with this region, provided we now have the necessary trends where the multilateral system is moving.
We probably will restart a number of free trade negotiations which we have not been started.