WTO Members Consider Easing International Customs Regulations

Goal is to lessen delays, but EU trade commissioner says security must be considered first


GENEVA (AP) -- World Trade Organization members will consider a raft of measures to ease the international transport of goods by improving cooperation between national customs authorities, trade officials said Tuesday.

A new WTO committee looked at ways to improve customs regulations, putting a stop to unnecessary delays on goods moving across member states' territories, said a trade official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other measures up for consideration included strictly limiting fees payable on imports and exports.

The WTO's 148 member nations agreed to form the committee on ``trade facilitation'' as part of the organization's ``framework'' package this summer on trade liberalization. The committee, open to all members, met for the first time last week to outline a schedule of meetings but got down to the real business Tuesday.

The European Union's new trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, said that the committee needs to consider the security aspect of relaxing customs regulations, a matter of particular concern to U.S. authorities.

``The security dimension is one of obvious concern and interest to us,'' Mandelson told reporters during a visit to WTO headquarters. ``I think important issues are being aired by the Americans.''

Trade facilitation talks were originally proposed by the European Union at a 1995 conference in Singapore, but negotiations were delayed until now because of opposition from developing countries, who are worried that richer nations could use the talks to push through their own interests.

Negotiations will initially focus on helping poorer countries handle imported and exported goods more efficiently.

In particular, poor landlocked countries such as Nepal and Rwanda have expressed hopes that the negotiations will be of help to them, as they have to pay more to get their goods to seaports.

International organizations, including the World Bank and World Customs Organization, also attended the WTO meeting.