Select Committee on European Communities Tenth Report


13 JUNE 2000

By the Select Committee appointed to consider European Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.



10279/99  Commission Communication: The European Union approach to the World Trade Organisation Millennium Round (already cleared by the Committee, but relevant to this inquiry)

14223/99   Commission Communication: Fair trade

6050/00   Commission Communication: The precautionary principle

"The world needs the WTO, as an essential bulwark to resist a slide back into protectionism, which remains an all-too-present danger and temptation for governments"

(submission from Michael Johnson, page 255)

"How can we … be expected to come here, to this WTO that was supposed to be the epitome of democracy, to put the seal of approval on a declaration that has been developed by … procedures to which we have had no access; to discussions in corridors to which only the economic power blocs are privy; to texts from which are expunged every vestige of the concept of development - with no sensitivity to the plight of the poorest and the smallest among us?

No, we cannot"

(Presentation to Ministerial Conference in Seattle by the Foreign Minister of St Lucia, quoted in evidence from the Green Party, page 255)

"The question that must be addressed is not 'rules or no rules?' but 'what rules and whose rules?'

(Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, page 276)


1. In November 1999, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) held its third Ministerial Conference in Seattle. The objective was to agree the agenda for a new Round of negotiations to start in early 2000, for which the suggested title was the Millennium Round. Instead, the Conference broke up in disarray, with no agreement, many recriminations, and an enormous amount of publicity. Efforts are now under way to pick up the pieces, and a WTO Council meeting in early May 2000 began to sketch out a way forward.

2. The European Community is a member of the WTO[1], and so are all the individual Member States. The Community has competence in many of the areas with which the WTO deals[2]. In those areas, it is the Commission which negotiates at the WTO, on the basis of a mandate agreed by all the Member States in the Council of Ministers[3]. Following the collapse of the Seattle Conference, it seemed appropriate to take stock of that mandate, to see whether it remained valid in the new context. The Committee therefore decided to undertake this inquiry into the lessons which the EU should learn in considering the way forward[4].

3. The Report is structured as follows:

  • Part 2 provides a summary of our conclusions.
  • Part 3 considers the fundamental principles and effects of international trade; traces the history of the WTO and considers the view of the EU on why a body of this kind is needed; and explores issues of representation and democratic accountability from the point of view of EU Member States.
  • Part 4 sets out the evidence on what went wrong in Seattle, and considers what the EU might learn for the future.
  • Part 5 considers whether there is a need for fundamental changes in the EU mandate following Seattle.
  • Part 6 examines the evidence which we received on a number of individual issues of substance, and sets out our conclusions on them in relation to the EU mandate.
  • Part 7 considers what the EU position should be on the way forward, in the light of the latest developments in the WTO before the finalisation of this Report at the end of May 2000.
  • Part 8 contains some concluding comments.

4. The inquiry was carried out by Sub-Committee A. The membership of the Sub-Committee during the inquiry is listed at Appendix 1. Our witnesses are listed at Appendix 2; we are grateful to all of them (particularly to those who gave oral evidence), and to Dr David Vines, Professor Lord Desai and Dr David Evans who assisted the Sub-Committee on economic matters. We also thank the UK Mission in Geneva for making the arrangements for the very brief but successful visit there by some members, who also met informally a number of Ambassadors from WTO member countries (listed at the end of Appendix 2). The EU mandate for the WTO negotiations is reproduced in full at Appendix 3. A Note from the Legal Adviser on competence in the WTO is at Appendix 4. Finally, since this is a field where jargon proliferates, readers may find the extensive Glossary in Appendix 5 helpful. All the evidence which we received (oral and written) is published in a separate volume.

1  To accord with common usage, we sometimes refer in this Report to "the European Union" when we should strictly say "the European Community". Back
2  See Note by the Legal Adviser at Appendix 4. Back
3  Relevant parts of this mandate are quoted in a box at the beginning of each section of this Report, and the mandate is reproduced in full at Appendix 3. Back
4  In reaching this decision, we noted that three Select Committees of the House of Commons had undertaken or were planning inquiries into various aspects of the WTO. On 23 November 1999, the Environmental Audit Committee published its Report, World Trade and Sustainable Development: an agenda for the Seattle summit (Second Report, 1999-2000, HC45). Still in progress at the time this Report was completed were inquiries by the Agriculture Committee (Implications for UK agriculture and EU agricultural policy of trade liberalisation and the WTO round) and by the International Development Committee (After Seattle: the WTO and developing countries). Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000