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Planet Ark World Environment News Earth Summit failure could imperil trade talks - EU

Date: 23-Jul-02
Country: DENMARK
Author: Robin Pomeroy

The gathering of European Union environment ministers in this Danish town was greeted by a small but loud demonstration of anti-EU and anti-globalisation activists. Police detained several of the mostly young protesters after minor scuffles.

The EU wants the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to issue a clear action plan and timetables to provide access to water, sanitation and electricity to developing nations and set aims for reducing environmental harm.

EU Development Commissioner Poul Nielson said that if the rich world failed to make such commitments and show how they would be met, poorer nations would be unlikely to play ball in trade talks launched last year in Doha, Qatar.

"If Johannesburg fails, we will probably see very negative effects in the global trade arena," he told a news conference after the meeting of EU environment ministers. "Doha would have a very difficult start indeed if this were the background."

The trade talks launched at Doha last November aim to further open up world trade and at the same time make sure that developing nations benefit by getting greater access to markets, such as agriculture, in rich states.

With just six weeks to go before the start of the two-week Johannesburg gathering, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit, diplomats have made only modest progress on agreeing the political declaration and action plan that should be issued at its conclusion.

EU TAKES AIM AT UNITED STATES

EU diplomats said the United States was reluctant to accept the targets and timetables it was suggesting, preferring instead to concentrate on voluntary initiatives from industry to help the poor while protecting the environment.

Nielson said the U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto treaty on global warming and a farm bill which Washington produced last month to give bigger subsidies for U.S. farmers were examples of where the world's richest nation had irked the poorest.

"It isn't a simple question of just blaming the United States, but its whole attitude to working with multilateral agreements makes it more difficult (to get an agreement for Johannesburg)," Nielson said.

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said the developed world had failed the poorer countries since Rio, when it promised to work for sustainable development - increasing prosperity for all without destroying the environment.

"The world is split 10 years after Rio into winners and losers," she said. "There is mistrust and a lack of confidence of the developing countries towards us and the United States in particular."

The environment ministers were spending the weekend in talks to define the EU's negotiating position on the environmental aspects of the summit. According to the EU's executive Commission, the bloc has five priorities:

- drafting a 10-year plan for sustainable production and consumption

- reversing the decline in biological diversity

- action to deal with hazardous chemicals

- delivering clean water and sanitation to the world's poor

- increasing the use of renewable energy.

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