In defense of 'green power'

Posted in Europe | 05-Dec-05 | Author: Philippe Douste-Blazy| Source: International Herald Tribune

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.
PARIS This month, 158 global trading partners are set to meet in Hong Kong in a bid to hammer out an agreement on the customs tariffs and rules governing world trade. There have been claims that France is fighting a rearguard action, focused solely on its own farming interests. Our aim, rather, is to uphold a clear vision of the world and of the North-South balance.

To get this message across, the European Union needs to speak with a single voice, and our country is playing its part in giving expression to the Union's common position.

In the run up to the Hong Kong conference, the French Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade Christine Lagarde and I will both be working to shore up Europe's positions in the service of a shared political project and values. Europe is the world's premier trading power, and our common trade policy is one of Europe's fundamental achievements. To undermine that would be to undermine the very future of Europe.

It is time we dispelled misunderstandings. For European member states, it implies a willingness to take each other's interests into account. Europe must regain a strong position in the current WTO negotiations. I for one intend to work to that end in a spirit of constructive proposals.

It is worth clarifying the issues. Hong Kong is just one step in a longer negotiating process, the Doha round, which began in 2001 and which is scheduled for completion at the end of 2006 at best. This round is supposed to pave the way for balanced development of our planet in favor of the poorest countries.

France has everything to gain from an agreement that would bring globalization under control and open up fast-growing markets. Some emerging countries are demanding concessions on tariffs from Europe yet at the same time close their markets to our exports - in services for example. We cannot sit back and make do with a situation where world trade is dominated by the strongest.

France is hoping for progress to be achieved in Hong Kong, but not at any price. Those who claim that cutting customs tariffs will spur export growth in the less-developed countries are wrong.

If the markets for farm produce are opened up unchecked, the farmers of countries like Brazil and Argentina will benefit. But a sudden lowering of European barriers will put paid to the possibility of self-sufficiency for the poorest countries.

Is that acceptable? Is that what we want? I think not.

This is more than a moral obligation. It is a geopolitical and strategic choice affecting the broad balance of our planet. If we genuinely want to combat the scourge of terrorism, the major pandemics or the rising tide of illegal immigration, we must promote economic development.

We must not be afraid to defend what George W. Bush calls "green power." We must remember, bearing world population trends in mind, how important it is for a continent to be self-sufficient. Nor should we forget the importance of health security at a time when so many endemic diseases are spreading.

I want to answer those who say that France cannot simultaneously defend the Common Agricultural Policy and the poor countries. Thanks to the reform of the CAP, the European Union has already virtually abolished customs duties for the countries of the South. Given that the EU takes 85 percent of the poor countries' farm exports, a cut in these tariffs would undoubtedly benefit the emerging countries, but not those most in need.

In 2003, Europe embarked on an ambitious reform that cut production subsidies significantly. All our international trading partners hailed that reform. The recent agreement on the organization of the sugar market showed the Union's determination to forge ahead with that reform.

So it was only a matter of course that the European Commission should have been given a mandate to stick to the commitments made within this framework. There is no misunderstanding on this point between the French government, the president of the European Commission and the commissioner, Peter Mandelson. Their job is to respect the whole mandate, and nothing but the mandate.

We cannot allow a handful of people to put in jeopardy a decision arrived at unanimously. We must be clear on this point: This is not a question of defending the interests of France in isolation, but about preserving the overall balance within the European Union.

Finally, we want a balanced agreement, conducive to growth in trade in industry and services. France and the European Union stand ready to play their part on this issue, and to work for that with their partners. But we must obtain concessions, from the emerging countries notably, guaranteeing access for our corporations and helping to create jobs. Without these advances, the Doha road will lead nowhere.

France stands ready to contribute to the success of the round, but it cannot act alone.

Each of us must go some of the way toward the other. France's voice will not be the voice of calculated protectionism but that of reasonable market economics.

(Philippe Douste-Blazy is the French minister of foreign affairs.)