Wednesday, 30 April 2008
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment
World Trade Negotiations
Question 20: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the measures he is taking to ensure a positive outcome for Ireland in the current World Trade Organisation negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16465/08]
Question 36: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the discussions he or his Department has engaged in at European level to advance Ireland's interests in the World Trade Organisation talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16466/08]
Question 41: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on meetings undertaken by him or his Department with European counterparts in advance of the World Trade Organisation talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16457/08]
Question 51: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the action he is taking to defend Irish economic interests in the World Trade Organisation negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16467/08]
Question 74: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on the discussions he or his Department have had with Commissioner Mandelson on the World Trade Organisation talks; if the Commissioner's understanding of Irish concerns with regard to the World Trade Organisation talks was adequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16464/08]
John McGuinness (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 20, 36, 41, 51 and 74 together.
Discussions on the WTO's Doha Development round have been continuing since 2001. The aim of the negotiations is to liberalise trade, that is, improve access to the markets of WTO members in areas such as agriculture, manufactured goods and internationally traded services as well as examining ways of streamlining and strengthening WTO rules. What should not be lost sight of in public debate about the talks, is the overriding objective of the Round to ensure a strong development dimension to help poorer countries develop faster and help raise the living standards of all developing economies. On behalf of the EU, the Commission has the lead role in negotiating on behalf of Member States.
The talks have been making slow progress, in fits and starts for the past 7 years. At every step of the negotiating process we have made it patently clear that we support a successful conclusion of the Round, but only on the basis of a fair and balanced outcome for all sides. This includes a deal that recognises and respects our national interests. It must be remembered that previous WTO rounds of trade liberalization have greatly benefited our economy and have provided an encouraging, stable and predictable trading environment for our exporters.
Earlier this year, the Government noticed a tangible change in both the pace of progress on the talks and the mood of ambition to complete the Round this year. With the talks likely to enter a new and critical phase, I and other Government Ministers, especially my colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food accelerated and intensified our engagement, discussions and direct contact with those who represent us at the negotiations in Geneva or who could in any way influence the process in areas where we have vital concerns and interests to promote.
I would like to set out some of the extensive Ministerial, diplomatic and official activities underway to keep our vital economic and agriculture interests at the top of the negotiators list of considerations. Over the past 3 months I have met with the Director General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy and with each the chairmen of three key negotiating groups within the talks, namely Ambassadors Falconer, Stephenson and De Mateo covering Agriculture, NAMA and Services, respectively. I also travelled to meet trade Ministers in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia (because that important country is President of the EU Council) and I have discussed our concerns with the UK's Trade Minister. Along with Minister Coughlan we also had a very useful meeting with the French Agriculture Minister to cement our strong mutual WTO interests on the agriculture front.
At the end of February, I met with Commissioner Mandelson and told him in straight terms that the direction of the talks he is spearheading for the EU, is not delivering a fair and balanced outcome for us. Furthermore Minister Coughlan has more recently met with her Ministerial counterparts in other EU Member States such as Poland, France and Germany and at Agriculture Council meetings, to forge alliances with others who share our concerns about where the talks are leading. Ministers are at the forefront in presenting and pressing our vital WTO interests at every opportunity and only yesterday Minister Coughlan met with Commissioner Mandelson to further express our perspective about the agriculture issues emerging from the WTO.
Recently at official visits to the country of Chancellor Merkel and Commissioner Barroso, the Taoiseach clearly set out our concerns about how any WTO agreement, as structured, would affect our economy and employment prospects in the agriculture sector.
The WTO negotiations were also on the agenda of the March meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, when EU Foreign Ministers reconfirmed the importance of achieving a comprehensive, ambitious and balanced final outcome to the negotiations. It is important that the Deputy is also aware that my Department's officials take every opportunity, almost on a weekly basis in relevant trade committees, to reinforce our deep concern at the way the negotiations are headed and the likely impact they will have on us. Our diplomatic representations abroad, particularly at the WTO in Geneva are actively engaged in presenting our case for a balanced and ambitious conclusion to the Doha Development Round. We are using all opportunities open to us and are taking, with determination and forceful diplomacy, the discussion of an ambitious, fair and balanced WTO conclusion into every available forum.