CBI observer laments `lost opportunity’ of WTO talks

Industry leaders have expressed regret over the collapse of the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle. The failure to set an agenda for the next round of talks means that plans to launch a full-scale round on the trade in industrial goods have been abandoned. David Wood, head of international trade and investment policy at […]

Industry leaders have expressed regret over the collapse of the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle. The failure to set an agenda for the next round of talks means that plans to launch a full-scale round on the trade in industrial goods have been abandoned.

David Wood, head of international trade and investment policy at the Confederation of British Industry and an accredited observer at the talks, told The Engineer that the outcome was a lost opportunity for industry. A chance for agreement on matters of interest to the engineering industry, such as IT and tariffs for high-tech products, had been missed, he said.

`The possibility of negotiations on the international investment framework and general tariff cutting would have been helpful, as would making government procurement more transparent,’ he said.

Instead, there will be limited rounds of talks on services and agricultural goods, which will only be of limited relevance to manufacturers.

Plans to negotiate a global agreement on e-commerce and on updating intellectual property rights have also fallen by the wayside. US attempts to force an agreement on labour rights onto the agenda – in the face of opposition from developing countries, who viewed this as back door protectionism – led to the collapse.

The US was not prepared to widen the area of negotiations to accommodate the EU or developing countries.

`The result is disappointment at a lost opportunity. But there is now a real need to keep the talks going,’ said Wood.

However, a spokesman for the Engineering Employers’ Federation took a more relaxed view. He said: `In terms of engineering, it’s what’s happening across the globe in the big industries which really drives engineering in this country.

`It’s purely hard-nosed commercial decisions which count and they will not be affected by what the World Trade Organisation does or doesn’t decide.’