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France eyes bilateral trade deals after WTO failure


France eyes bilateral trade deals after WTO failure

Tue Sep 19, 2006

PARIS (Reuters) - France intends to target the Gulf, India, Asia and the Mediterranean basin in a push towards bilateral trade deals following the collapse of global free trade talks, Trade Minister Christine Lagarde said on Tuesday.

Lagarde said upcoming elections in several key countries meant that no real progress could be expected soon towards reviving global free trade negotiations following the collapse of the World Trade Organisation’s Doha round of talks in July.

"I doubt that dialogue, even if it seems alive on the surface, will truly be deep and bring tangible results in the coming months," she said at a meeting of France’s main employer group Medef.

She said elections coming up in Brazil and the United States and then France and the United Kingdom could lead to a change in those states’ trade policies.

WTO chief Pascal Lamy suspended the tortuous Doha round of talks after major trading powers failed to bridge differences over agricultural trade, with the European Union and United States blaming each other for making insufficient concessions.

Lagarde said France still favoured the multilateral trade framework but had to move towards bilateral and regional deals while WTO talks were suspended.

"In the absence of effective and fertile multilateral dialogue, we must also turn towards another path," she said.

"Our partners are not holding back," she said, adding that the United States was a leader in this area.

France intended to focus its bilateral efforts on certain countries where there was strong demand, such as countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which includes Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

"ASEAN has strong demand and is very keen. Exchanges are multiplying within this zone. Bilateral agreements are being struck between ASEAN and other regions of the world. We must not be left out," Lagarde said.

"Countries like (South) Korea, like India, are also interested and initiatives are being put in place," she added.

Two other regions she said she wanted to focus on were the Gulf and states in the ’Euromed’ area around the Mediterranean.

"A bilateral agreement with the Gulf countries is absolutely desired by the Gulf countries, which consider that we Europeans are taking a long time to get in gear," Lagarde said.

France would also consider incorporating social and environmental standards not covered by the Doha framework into bilateral deals, she said.

 source: Reuters