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Decision on AGOA Extension Deferred

Published date:
Friday, 20 February 2004

"Little by little we make progress" in advancing the World Trade Organization's (WTO's) Doha agenda -- a cause to which President Bush remains fully committed -- United States Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick told reporters February 18.

AGOA beneficiariesFollowing talks in Mombasa, Kenya, with African trade ministers, European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, and World Trade Organization Director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi, Zoellick told waiting reporters, "We have hard work ahead, but I leave this session with a feeling of encouragement."

Paraphrasing remarks made earlier by Kenyan Minister of Trade and Industry Mukhisa Kituyi, who hosted the talks, Zoellick said, "There's a commitment in Africa, as well as a need, a recognition of the need for flexibility on all sides for us to move this [WTO trade agenda] forward."

Speaking for the Africans, Minister Kituyi said, "We, the African trade ministers who have been meeting here, together with some of our ambassadors from Geneva, are agreed that Africa and the other Africans -- the whole group -- the so-called G-90 -- have a purposeful interest in engaging on the way forward in the multilateral trade negotiations.

[The G-90 is the tripartite alliance of the African Union (AU), the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP) and the Less Developed Countries (LDCs) that forms a majority of the developing countries in the WTO.]

"We have made substantial progress in contributing to reverse the loss of Cancun," he told reporters, adding that the group has been discussing a priority agenda for the African countries in the Doha negotiations. Kituyi said the Africans are also interested in building in "a level of flexibility" that can allow the negotiations to go forward.

"In our discussions" Kituyi said, "we were very immensely enriched by the candid exchange of views between ourselves and Ambassador Bob Zoellick and Commissioner Pascal Lamy. We were reassured by both of them that, in spite of this being a rather tricky year with the impending American election and the change in the European Commission, the attention of these two critical players in the WTO process is not going to dissipate."

Reviewing the just completed talks in Mombasa, Zoellick said he had been "very pleased" by this and other such stops on his worldwide trip, and that he was leaving Africa "with a feeling of encouragement."

Zoellick told reporters that his talks the previous day in Cape Town with South African Minister of Trade and Industry Alec Erwin and with African trade ministers in Mombasa both stand as important parts of a "strategic dialogue" he had conducted in a wide array of world trade capitals over 12 days.

"I am in the course of a visit to a number of countries, following up on a letter that I sent in early January. And so far, I've been in Japan, China, Singapore -- where I visited with a number of countries from southeast Asia -- Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, and, yesterday, Cape Town."

Zoellick was headed to Geneva, the WTO, and then to Paris before returning home, only to depart again for Costa Rica for talks with the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting countries.

Referring to his talks in Mombasa, Zoellick said, "Part of what this session enabled me to do was to brief and report to my African colleagues some of the impressions ... that I found ... [during my worldwide trip]: that there's good, strong interest in moving ahead on the Doha Agenda."

Zoellick then responded to questions from the press. Asked about the cotton subsidy issue, he said that while in Mombasa he met with representatives from Benin and other countries concerned about that issue. A World Bank-International Monetary Fund meeting will take place in Benin in late March, he said, that will try to determine the degree to which cotton subsidies have adversely impacted the African development process.

"On the trade side," Zoellick told reporters, "we favor the complete elimination of export subsidies by all countries, and that includes the subsidy element of export credits." That is one core element that obviously is important for cotton producers, he said.

Zoellick said he suggested that actions might be taken with regard to cotton as part of an overall agricultural trade negotiation.

Besides agriculture, he said, tariffs are also an important and closely linked factor.

"There are some countries that are very big textile and apparel producers," and for that reason, he said, this may become even bigger [as an issue] with the end of the multi-fiber agreement at the end of 2004. ... That's an area we can work on together," he said.

The African trade talks in Mombasa, Zoellick said, had a "constructive tone."

"The only way that trade negotiations work is if there's a give-and-take, and if there's a sense of how people who are going to have to make difficult decisions on the domestic front will be able to gain in other sectors," he counseled.

"As you know, our position on agriculture is aggressive in terms of export subsidies, domestic support and tariffs," he said, "and so that's an area [where] we need to work together to create the context for the improvement on cotton.

Asked if progress is possible on the WTO agenda in 2004, which is a presidential election year in the United States, Zoellick reminded everyone: "We have two political events this year, among others. We have the elections in the United States; you'll have a change in the [European] Commission...

"I was just in India -- you're going to have elections in India ... [and] in South Africa. The point that I wanted to emphasize is that President Bush is committed to moving the Doha Agenda forward, and I believe we can make substantive progress that we failed to do in Cancun.

"But," he quickly cautioned, "I think we need to try to do so during the next months."

On the prospects for support of such progress in the United States, he said "it really depends on whether I can show that I can open markets and cut other people's subsidies. That will allow me to build the support to take on the subsidies reduction in the United States."

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