There is no "plan B" following the breakdown of multilateral trade talks in Geneva in July, Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told a special meeting of the EP International Trade Committee on Monday. Replying to MEPs' questions, he warned that a failure of the Doha round would have knock-on effects on the multilateral system and on certain international agreements, such as the follow-up to Kyoto."The deal outlined in July is still on the table", said the Commissioner, who described the failed talks on a special safeguard mechanism for developing country farmers as a "pre-agreement", adding that "no-one is ready to abandon to these talks", even though issues such as China's special status or cotton are far from settled.
The Commissioner would prefer to pursue the talks without awaiting 2009 or the end of the US election campaign, although he stipulated that the EU would not make a new offer on agriculture. "We must pick up where we left off", he said.
"A new Democratic US administration and Democratic Congress would be less inclined to reject a multilateral agreement, but could be more critical of bilateral agreements inherited from the previous administration", he told Robert Sturdy (EPP-ED, UK), who questioned America's will to pursue the negotiations.
Environment and car industry
"Is it possible to introduce tougher requirements with a view to Copenhagen?" asked Caroline Lucas (Greens/EFA, UK), referring to the international conference to be held in 2009 to seek an agreement on reducing CO2 emissions after 2012. Mr Mandelson observed that progress had been made in liberalising trade in environmental services, which makes it possible, inter alia, to import bioethanol from Brazil.
An overall failure of the Doha round would, he said, jeopardise the WTO's credibility and have a knock-on effect on the multilateral system as a whole, including the post-Kyoto negotiations.
To Erika Mann (PES, DE), who raised the concerns of Europe's car industry, Mr Mandelson said the industry would also face the challenge posed by the global climate change package being discussed in the EP, which advocates a reduction in vehicles' CO2 emissions.
Negotiating a bilateral deal with ASEAN must be part of the EU's strategy, argued the Commissioner. The EU's negotiating position at the WTO includes opening up the EU market to third country producers without reciprocity for European producers, according to the latter.
The Commissioner announced that the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Caribbean countries should be signed by the end of 2008.
Robert Sturdy, Erika Mann et Glyn Ford (PES, UK) voiced concern about the fate of Haiti and Guyana, which had announced that they would not sign an EPA. Mr Mandelson said that there are only two legal options: either signing an EPA by 31 October, or applying the generalized preferences system, which he described as "less favourable".