Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May16/03)
4 May 2016
Third World Network
EU's aggressive new trade agenda, after sinking Doha talks
Published in SUNS #8232 dated 29 April 2016
Geneva, 28 Apr (D. Ravi Kanth) - The European Union has come out in
the open by unveiling an aggressive trade agenda to be pursued at
the World Trade Organization, after collaborating with the United
States in torpedoing the Doha Development Agenda trade negotiations
at Nairobi, Kenya, over four months ago, several trade envoys told
[In a comment, Chakravarthi Raghavan, Editor-Emeritus of the SUNS,
notes that even at Marrakech in 1994, in concluding the Uruguay Round
negotiations and signing on to the WTO treaty and its annexed agreements,
the EU (at that time the European Communities) laid the groundwork
for a new round to enable it to delay and avoid the commitments for
reforms in agriculture trade and the EC's heavy subsidies and protection
to its agriculture sector - on the domestic, export and import sectors.
The United States, initially opposing such a new round of negotiations,
at Singapore in 1996, Geneva in 1998 and Seattle in 1999, joined the
European Union in launching the negotiations on the Doha Work Programme
as a Single Undertaking in 2001.
[In retrospect at least, adds Raghavan, it is clear that the two dominant
partners engaged in these delaying tactics to make a mockery of the
oft-proclaimed rules-based WTO multilateral trading system, and jettison
their own treaty commitments, under the dubious argument that many
of the Doha work programme issues are out of date.]
Brussels' new trade agenda for the WTO includes several new issues
such as investment, export restrictions on energy and raw materials,
local content requirements, state-owned enterprises, and sectoral
market access agreements for goods.
In a detailed policy statement made before the EU's civil society
representatives on Tuesday (April 26), the EU's trade commissioner
Cecilia Malmstrom sought to make out a strong case for leaving the
Doha work program behind even though it contains many issues that
are "just as relevant today, as they were in 2001, if not more
"We don't need to get bogged down in the question of whether
Doha is dead or alive," the commissioner said, after joining
forces with the US in running away with the Trade Facilitation Agreement
while wrecking the remaining issues of the Doha Work Programme's single
The EU, which hitherto had played a "countervailing" role
to contain its trans-Atlantic trade partner, the US, at the GATT (General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and subsequently the WTO, has changed
course since 2008 by being the principal ally for Washington to pursue
an agenda that diametrically stood opposite to the demands made by
developing and least-developed countries, according to several trade
Brussels joined Washington in pursuing an aggressive "differentiation-cum-graduation"
approach by painting China and India as separate from the rest of
the developing countries even though they still contain the largest
number of people dependent on agriculture and living below the poverty
"And the economic rise of countries like China and India has
not only changed the balance of power in the WTO, it has changed the
interests of some key developing countries," commissioner Malmstrom
claimed, parroting Washington's thesis of emerging economies which
need to undertake higher commitments without special and differential
Although the EU's priorities in agriculture, rules, and even some
developmental issues differed from the US positions, Brussels allowed
itself to be treated as handmaiden of the US for pursuing a diabolical
new trade agenda, a South American trade envoy told the SUNS.
Otherwise, it is difficult to explain how the EU which fought fiercely
with the US over agriculture in the previous Uruguay Round, and until
the run-up to and at the 2003 Cancun Ministerial Conference, allowed
Washington at Nairobi to get the disciplines it wanted in the Doha
agriculture export competition pillar, particularly in areas such
as export credits and food aid, the envoy added.
The EU had vehemently opposed the US demands in export credits and
food aid at the WTO's sixth ministerial conference in Hong Kong when
the former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson refused to budge
on Washington's demand for kid-glove-treatment on food aid.
At Nairobi, the EU merely swallowed whatever was demanded by its trans-Atlantic
trade partner on export credits and food aid.
Further, the EU gave up its own agenda on trade-distorting domestic
support because the US was not interested.
It allowed the WTO director-general, Roberto Azevedo, to pursue the
US agenda on agriculture, said a developed country trade envoy, who
asked not to be quoted.
Little wonder that the EU commissioner said there are many issues
in the Doha Work Programme "that cannot be addressed in bilateral
or regional trade agreements and can only be tackled in the WTO."
Among the three big issues to be tackled at the WTO, she mentioned
"domestic support to agriculture."
"This is one of the most important and challenging unresolved
issues, which many members care about," Commissioner Malmstrom
"Therefore, advancing on domestic support will be crucial for
progress to be achieved on other issues," she emphasized.
The commissioner is fully aware that domestic support will now remain
on the back burner forever because its trans-Atlantic trade partner
will not simply allow it due to the farm bill that was passed by the
US Congress in 2014.
That farm bill of the US overshot domestic subsidy payments well beyond
the levels that were nearly negotiated in the Doha round and in some
cases, went beyond the previous Uruguay Round, according to the South
American trade envoy.
Further, the EU knows that the US will refuse to move on domestic
support unless China, India, and other leading developing countries
undertake commensurate commitments without the S&DT or less-than-full-reciprocity
Coming to the new issues, the EU and the US are almost on the same
page on digital trade which is being pursued in the plurilateral initiative
on the trade in services agreement (TISA) and also the trans-Atlantic
Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations.
Despite some difference on the data-privacy and sharing issues in
e-commerce, the two trade elephants will try and push for launching
negotiations on digital trade at the WTO, an Asian envoy said.
On "Digital trade," said commissioner Malmstrom, "this
is an area where we actually have a WTO work program - on e-commerce
- but where progress has been slow and economic reality has moved
"It's also interesting because 23 WTO members are already in
talks on the issue in the negotiations for a Trade in Services Agreement.
Other countries appear interested too. For instance, China has raised
the issue in the context of its G20 presidency," she said.
The third main issue after domestic support and digital trade for
the EU is the most controversial "investment" issue. "This
was part of the Doha Round until Members dropped it in 2003,"
the EU trade policy chief said.
She justified the need to start discussions on investment because
of the "impact of the bilateral approaches on investment protection
that countries have taken to the issue since."
"It's become one of the most sensitive issues in the public debate
and different approaches are proliferating," she argued.
Significantly, "there does appear to be interest among some WTO
members now to come back to it, including again from China,"
Commissioner Malmstrom argued.
But the US remains reluctant to pursue a multilateral investment agreement
when it is extracting major concessions for itself through the bilateral
agreements, said an envoy familiar with the backroom discussions on
The second group of some eight issues of importance for the EU include
five new issues such as "good regulatory practices and transparency
for technical barriers to trade"; "subsidies for manufactured
goods,"; "export restrictions on energy and raw materials";
"local content" requirements; and "state owned enterprises."
The three remaining issues she mentioned - fisheries subsidies, food
security and public stockholdings, and domestic regulation - are already
there on the agenda.
Commissioner Malmstrom said "the final group" of two issues
cover "only a plurilateral approach" for "sectoral
market access agreements for goods" and "more" to be
done in trade facilitation.
The EU argued that while sectoral market access agreements need to
be pursued on the lines of the Information Technology Agreement, there
is strong ground for other areas such as chemicals.
For expanding the Trade Facilitation Agreement, the EU commissioner
said Brussels is working with a 'subset' of WTO members.
In many ways, Commissioner Malmstrom's ideas for the WTO seem to replace
the infamous "Millennium" trade agenda that was pursued
by Sir Leon Brittan with another set of ambitious issues that would
ensure the continued dominance of the developed countries in the global
It remains to be seen how the developing and poorest countries will
respond to the EU's ambitious and comprehensive agenda after suffering
the loss of the Doha Development Agenda round of trade negotiations
because of the EU's role.