Select Committee on European Communities Tenth Report


291. We believe that there are lessons for the EU to learn from the collapse of last year's Ministerial Conference in Seattle, and that it should be seen to be learning them. The EU would be ill-advised to go into the next stages of negotiations without a full review of the mandate by the Council of Ministers: that would be seen by other members of the WTO as a very Bourbon thing to do. We understand that the EU will not want to disclose the whole of its negotiating hand in advance, but it should nonetheless be possible to formulate the mandate in a way which demonstrates the EU's readiness to participate in a constructive process of the kind we have in mind.

292. We envisage that this may involve the EU in being prepared, as the negotiating process goes forward, to narrow the range of issues to be addressed in the Round. We think that at the end of the day the EU should be going for a Round which concentrates on the issues where progress is most likely to be achievable, rather than looking for trade-offs on the broadest possible canvas. This would be greatly facilitated by the EU making sensible changes to the Common Agricultural Policy of its own accord, and in advance of the next Round, rather than keeping them as bargaining counters.

293. We believe that the EU should give very careful consideration to its position on the timing of the next Ministerial Conference (whose aim will be to agree on an agenda for a Round). This should not take place until preliminary discussions among all the participants (including developing countries as well as the major trading nations) have identified the list of issues where progress may be possible, and have reduced the number and range of decisions to be taken at ministerial level in the bright lights of the Conference. This will be a long, painstaking exercise. We therefore deplore the agreement reached by the EU and the US to try to launch a new Round during the course of this year. It is much more important to get it right than to get it soon.

294. We believe that the EU should recognise the danger that the WTO, and in particular its dispute settlement procedure, will become overloaded with issues which would be better dealt with in other fora. We can see the difficulty of endorsing conflicting worthy objectives with no means of determining a hierarchy among them. We therefore welcome the emphasis in the EU mandate on the need for policy coherence, to be achieved through co-operation between all the relevant organisations forming part of the system of international governance.

295. We note that the WTO is an organisation under strain, and will become more so as its membership increases. Seattle was damaging to its credibility, and to the confidence in it of many both inside and outside the organisation. Another failure would be a serious setback which could damage its usefulness, perhaps even lead to its demise. If we believe in the global benefits of free trade on the basis of a rules-based system so as to ensure as far as possible that it is fair, that it really does benefit all members, and that it is not exploited to the disadvantage of the poorer countries who most need markets for their exports, then we need the WTO. The organisation simply cannot afford another spectacular failure, so—to quote Commissioner Lamy—"when it comes to the next Ministerial, whenever it is, a Round has to be a sure-fire bet".

Recommendation to the House

296. The Committee considers that the EU mandate for World Trade Organisation negotiations following the Ministerial Conference in Seattle raises important questions to which the attention of the House should be drawn. It therefore makes this Report to the House for debate.

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