Incoming EU Trade Commissioner ‘Confident’ in Doha Outcome

13 January 2010

The European Union's trade commissioner-designate told Members of the European Parliament yesterday that he is "quite confident" that a Doha Round trade deal can be struck this year or next, and that concluding the round is a top priority.

The remarks came during a three-hour question-and-answer session in Brussels that marked the first morning of confirmation hearings for the 26 incoming European commissioners.

Outlining his goals for EU trade policy, Karel De Gucht, the former Belgium minister of foreign affairs, said that strengthening the multilateral trading system is at the top of his list.

"Let us not forget: compared with other international organisations, the WTO is the most advanced model of global governance that exists and we must continue to invest political capital in it," said De Gucht in his opening remarks.

Yet De Gucht rejected the notion of changing the mandate for the WTO's current round of negotiations, which were launched in 2001.

Revising the WTO agenda would "cost time and make things more difficult," he said, when asked by one parliamentarian if the mandate for the talks should be updated to address global challenges like climate change and the financial crisis.

De Gucht added that WTO members have agreed on "90 percent of the topics under negotiation," and blamed the United States, China and India for the most recent major setback in the talks. Nonetheless, he expressed confidence that a Doha deal could be struck.

"I don't know if it will be in 2010 or 2011, but I am quite confident."

‘No' to carbon border taxes

De Gucht took a dim view on carbon border taxes, which have been championed in some corners of Europe. These unilateral measures - tariffs imposed on imports from a country that has not comparably offset the greenhouse gas associated a given good's production - are fiercely opposed by developing countries, which warn that they run counter to multilateral trade rules.

China and India bristled during the Copenhagen climate conference last month, when an American negotiator suggested that carbon border taxes would help level the economic playing field for firms based in countries that adopt ambitious emission targets. French president Nicolas Sarkozy is also a firm supporter of the measures.

However, De Gucht said carbon border taxes should be avoided because they risked triggering a "trade war." He said that governments need to adopt an approach "that fits with market laws," seeming to imply that he does not think that carbon border taxes would comply with WTO rules.

If confirmed, De Gucht will succeed Catherine Ashton as the EU's top trade official. Ashton left the trade commissioner post last month, after she was nominated to become the European Union's first ‘High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy', a post created under the freshly ratified Lisbon Treaty.

The parliamentary hearings are set to wrap up on 19 January, and a vote is expected on 26 January 26. The EU Parliament must accept or reject the entire suite of designated commissioners; they cannot refuse individual nominations.

ICTSD reporting.

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