GENEVA — The resignation of European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson on Friday to become Secretary of State for business, enterprise and regulatory reform in the British government is a major loss for salvaging the troubled global Doha talks, envoys said.
Catherine Ashton, an economist and leader of the House of Lords, was confirmed on Monday to replace Mandelson, after being nominated by José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-member EU, in consultation with U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“Mandelson was seen as someone who defended liberal trade policy and had the respect of the business community,” said a senior EU official, who requested anonymity. “It’s a big loss for Brussels but a big gain for Britain.”
Some of Mandelson’s most turbulent days in Brussels were in the summer of 2005, when a surge in Chinese apparel shipments, following the end of global quotas, resulted in an EU-Sino safeguard accord that for months led to delays and market confusion. The fiasco was labeled Mandelson’s “bra wars” by the European press.
A spokesman for the World Trade Organization said Mandelson “was an effective and articulate advocate of the Doha Round and the global trade system, and we assume in his new post he will continue to be.”
However, a number of Western diplomats said Mandelson’s decision to move on might have been influenced by calculations that the Doha talks “would not be concluded on his watch.”
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