No, we are not talking about an exotic holiday, we are referring to the meeting of trade ministers of the 146 members of the WTO in Mexico from 10 to 15 September. This meeting marks an important step in efforts to make a success of the "development round", the latest big round of international trade negotiations launched in Doha in November 2001. Cancun is not the end of this process - far from it - but an intermediate stage where negotiators will take stock and make sure that the round is on target for completion at the end of 2004 as scheduled. The Doha agenda is huge: 146 countries to negotiate 20 international trade issues, with the focus on development.
As the European Trade Commissioner, I represent 15 EU Member States, plus ten future members, and I will be there to defend our interests and our vision of globalisation, which is that it should be managed and have the same rules for everybody. With such an ambitious programme for the week ahead of us, I doubt very much whether we will have time to go to the beach.
Trade in agriculture is one of the "hottest" issues in this round, I admit. Our objective is simple: to find a balance between market opening and preservation of a viable countryside around the world. The EU has made a political choice to support its agriculture because it is not an economic activity like any other. It serves purposes other than mere production. It plays a part in conserving the environment, in food security, in animal wellbeing, and so on. The Union, however, is accused in some quarters of "disguised protectionism". Is that true? Let the figures speak for themselves. The EU is the world's leading importer of farm products, worth nearly €60 billion in 2001. We alone import as much from the developing countries as the US, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined. Since we grant so many preferences to the developing countries, the real level of our customs duties is around 10%. This did not stop the EU from putting an ambitious package on the table in January: we proposed reducing customs duties by 36%, reducing export subsidies by 45% and reducing trade-distorting aids by over 55%. The recent reform of the common agricultural policy is fully consistent with this: it enables us to continue supporting our agriculture, while disturbing trade less. The EU can boast to its WTO partners that it has done its duty in lessening the impact of subsidies on fair competition. It can defend its priorities without blushing, urge others to submit to the same disciplines and promote high quality European products thanks to geographical indications. It is now up to our partners - and here I am obviously thinking of the US and other big exporters like Australia, New Zealand and Canada - to show that they are ready and willing to give the go-ahead for an opening of agricultural markets that will benefit the developing countries. Our concessions will depend on theirs. This is something we will work on in Cancun.
A short flashback - in the beginning there were industrial goods. The first rounds of trade negotiations focused on trade in goods and lower tariffs. Since this process is now well advanced it does not hit the headlines. But manufactures account for over 70% of the developing countries' exports. That is why they are insisting on still greater reductions in customs duties. In the spirit of Doha, the EU has made its partners a substantial offer that would keep customs duties within a narrow bracket and prevent tariff peaks for some products. We have even suggested doing away with export restrictions on raw materials and giving everyone zero rating for textiles and clothing, which are the developing countries' main exports. Europe will lose nothing in doing this, more trade means more growth.
Trade in services is another big item on the negotiating agenda. What does it cover? Services, what we call the tertiary sector, are at the heart of our economies: information technology, advisory services, banking, insurance, distribution , transport, tourism, business support services, and so on.
Services are the most dynamic sector of the economy, accounting for two-thirds of European gross domestic product (GDP) and two-thirds of our jobs, that it 110 million people. They are also crucial for the economies of other countries, they account for 50% of the developing countries' GDP, for instance. A remarkable but little known fact is that 15 of the world's 40 leading service exporters are from developing countries.
However, their share of international trade does not always reflect the crucial and growing role they play in the world economy. Developing countries are pressing for an opening of these markets; it must be done in a way that ensures global growth, justice and solidarity. Not all services are involved. Let me remind you that the EU has excluded education, health and culture from the negotiations. All three are part of our European social model and cannot be treated as mere "goods".
It seems self-evident that people suffering from the three major infectious diseases — Aids, tuberculosis and malaria — should have access to medicines. However, WTO members are still divided on this issue: the US still seems reluctant. Even if the matter is not formally part of the programme devised at Doha, we cannot ignore it. Broadly speaking, the idea is to make an exception to intellectual property rules, which rightly protect pharmaceutical research, by authorising developing countries to produce or buy generic medicines more cheaply. The outstanding issue involves developing countries which do not have the capacity to produce medicines and which therefore need to import generic drugs (medicines not under patents). As Cancun approaches, the United States appears to be softening its stance. The EU can only urge it to join everyone else. It would be a strong signal of our collective ability to regulate globalisation.
Friday: So-called "regulatory issues"
This esoteric term covers four less "sexy" topics of discussion, but they are still vital: investment, competition, trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement. The object is to set rules, as far as possible, in these areas — not to standardise everything, but to establish a minimum set of identical rules for everyone which are non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable, and which could usefully replace bilateral treaties, which are always unequal for developing countries. However, the EU is not taking a maximalist position: we realise the additional effort this exercise demands from developing countries. Hence the approach is: "each at his own pace and according to his own abilities", although technical assistance will be given to help countries adjust their domestic legislation later.
Another new facet of trade negotiations is the inclusion of environmental considerations in discussions on trade. The European Union is solidly behind this. Trade does have an impact on the environment. If we want to be true to the commitments given in numerous summits on sustainable development, we have to act on them in the WTO, too. For that reason, we are working on three fronts: the impact of trade on the environment, harmonious coexistence of international environmental agreements and trade rules, and the use of trade measures to achieve environmental policy objectives (for example, fostering trade in eco-friendly products). The EU is leading the movement to encourage the WTO to take environmental rules on board in its decisions. We have already gone some way despite the reluctance of some who see this, yet again, as protectionism in disguise. We will have to see that we make it all the way before the end of the negotiations.
Sunday: the bell for the last lap
By now we will know whether or not we can sound the bell for the last lap. Major negotiations are like a long-distance race: you have to be making good time half-way to do well. After the false start at Seattle, and the real start at Doha, Cancun will tell us whether we are on track to achieve an ambitious outcome by 2004.
Pascal Lamy is European Commissioner for Trade