Tuesday, June 17, 2003

European leaders in the coming days plan to emphasize strong economic ties and common political goals with the United States while downplaying divisions that exploded from the war with Iraq, European Union officials said yesterday.

“Yes, there was a crisis in our relations on the issue of Iraq. But … the economic cooperation between the EU and the U.S., the magnitude of the activity, I think remains a bedrock in our relationship,” Greek Foreign Minister Georges Papandreou said.

“The strength of our economic relationship is something which positively affects the political cooperation in many other areas,” he added.

U.S. and EU officials will meet at an informal World Trade Organization minisummit in Egypt this weekend, then at a World Economic Forum in Jordan, and finally at a bilateral summit in Washington next week.

At next week’s bilateral meeting, the 15-nation European Union hopes to make progress on a series of political and economic issues, including an agreement to open trans-Atlantic air routes to more competition, cargo container security and other matters that often fall out of the public eye, EU officials said.

“I think it’s going to be a very challenging meeting, and there are great expectations, and I think it’s a time when we can relaunch the strategic partnership,” Mr. Papandreou told Washington-based reporters during a videoconference to preview next week’s summit.

Greece holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.

Another top priority in the coming days is progress on WTO negotiations. Talks among the body’s 146 members have stalled over disagreements on agriculture, how to provide drugs to poor nations and other issues.

“The main thing we will be be putting forward is of course our priority number one, which is this co-sponsoring of the WTO trade round, which the U.S. and the EU have been trying do,” said Pascal Lamy, the European Union’s trade commissioner.

Mr. Lamy described trade and economic relations as the most stable aspect of trans-Atlantic relations.

“Of course we have differences here and there, we have a few disputes, but we have channels to address them,” he said.

Some of those differences have spilled into disputes at the WTO, including EU challenges against U.S. tax breaks for exporters, steel tariffs and the disbursement to companies of duties collected from dumping cases. The United States most recently has challenged at the WTO European Union policy on biotechnology.

And different policies toward global trade have undermined efforts to advance trade talks. Ultimately, all WTO members must reach a consensus on trade issues, but the United States and European Union are seen as leaders and agreement between the sides is crucial.

The weekend meeting in Egypt will review progress in negotiations as governments prepare for the Sept. 10-14 gathering in Cancun, Mexico, that is supposed to set the stage for an agreement by the end of 2004.

The most important breakthrough would be an agreement on agricultural subsidies and tariffs, which are at the heart of the talks.

The European Union this week hopes to reach an agreement among its 15 members on farm policy. Mr. Lamy said that if successful, the internal agreement would give him extra negotiating room.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick has emphasized the importance of EU agricultural reform to the overall WTO agenda, saying that progress in agriculture will set the pace for progress in other areas of the negotiations.

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