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EU-U.S. Agreement Expected to be a Major Topic at WTO Conference in Cancun

Paper address differences between US-EU standards systems

Washington, DC, Sep 05, 2003

The World Trade Organization (WTO) conference scheduled to begin in Cancun, Mexico, next Wednesday will represent the midpoint in negotiations started at the Doha Ministerial in 2001. According to statements in today’s Financial Times, WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi expressed concern about the lack of agreements between developing and developed nations.

"Failure to advance the round in Cancun will complicate our attempt to conclude the talks by the end of next year," said Panitchpakdi. "Progress must be made. . . to keep the discussions ‘on track.’"

All the WTO’s 146 Trade Ministers – including U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick - will attend this meeting. It is seen as an intermediate stage where negotiators will take stock and make sure that the round is on target for completion. Doha established goals for lowering barriers to global trade and development by 2005.

The main issue of the Doha Development Agenda is how to help developing countries better integrate in the world trade system and benefit from its advantages. Most agree that improved market access mean very little if trade is shut out by other means; some are calling for rule making at a global level.

Significant differences remain but member governments seem to concur that a framework for further negotiations should be agreed at Cancun. The challenge, critics say, is that the draft text authored by WTO's general council chairman Carlos Perez del Castillo and presented to the ministers of WTO member states for consideration in Cancun does not represent all views. According to the Financial Times article, the draft was mostly based on the document presented by the United States and the European Union. Brazil, India and China say that their proposals, and the comments of other developing countries, were not included.

"While the EU-U.S. agreement did not meet with universal favor, it was a deal between the world's two largest traders — without agreement between them no broader deal is possible," Panitchpakdi explained.

A new paper issued by the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF), however, claims that the European Union is actually pursuing its own long-term strategy to change how international trade rules and international law evaluate whether a domestic regulation or standard constitutes a “non-tariff barrier” to trade.

The analysis calls for trade officials and political leaders around the world to develop long-term strategies to counter the European Union and its actions. "Failure to do so," the paper says, "will profoundly impact America's competitiveness in the world economy, and will lead businesses to offer fewer product choices to the marketplace. . . ."

In another WLF paper issued this month, Resolving Standards Conflicts Key to U.S.-European Foreign Trade, Dr. William E. Kelly, professor of civil engineering at Catholic University of America and chairman of the ANSI Education Committee, compares the fundamental differences and similarities of the EU-U.S. standards systems and explains that resolving standards conflicts is key to foreign trade between these trading partners.

Dr. Kelly’s paper acknowledges that a low level of understanding of standards and conformity assessment processes by legislators and regulators could lead to proposals and enactments that are at odds with established and accepted standards. "Such enactments cause problems not only for those directly affected," he says, "but also can cause trade problems. . . ." Standards and conformity assessment processes that could become technical barriers to trade come under the WTO.

Kelly’s paper advises that enhanced knowledge of the EU and U.S. standards and conformity assessment systems is essential to understanding and resolving trade- and standards-related conflicts. Given the number of divergent participants and viewpoints expected at the meetings in Cancun, such information sharing and understanding is becoming increasingly necessary on a global basis.

ANSI Nanotechnology Standards Panel