TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Doha round can succeed but question is when - USTR

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Source: Reuters (India)

The faltering Doha round of global trade talks can still succeed, but it remains to be seen whether a deal can be clinched soon or take several years, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said on Wednesday.

"I believe the Doha round can be successful, the question is one of time," she told reporters in Ghana during a trade forum.

"We will know more in the next several weeks or months as to whether it is a near-term focus or whether we will see the Doha round slip for several years and then come back."

Hopes for a deal in the so-called Doha round of negotiations, which have been dogged by disputes over farm and industrial goods, received another setback in June when a meeting in Germany between the European Union, the United States, India and Brazil collapsed acrimoniously.

Schwab said the disagreements at last month's failed meeting in Potsdam, Germany, were primarily "not over agriculture but market access and manufactured goods".

"The United States remains absolutely committed to a successful outcome of the Doha round and a successful outcome has to be one that is both ambitious and balanced," she said.

"It has to focus primarily on market access to be a successful development round, but also we are committed to elimination of agricultural export subsidies and to cuts in trade distorting domestic subsidies," Schwab added.

On Tuesday, mediators at the World Trade Organisation made a bid to salvage a global free trade deal by proposing compromises to overcome impasses over agriculture and industrial goods.

The mediators floated detailed texts spelling out ranges of cuts for farm subsidies and a formula for import tariff cuts for agricultural and industrial goods. The proposals are seen as possibly the last chance to save the Doha round, which has lurched from crisis to crisis since it was launched in Qatar in 2001 to help lift millions of people out of poverty.

"TOO IMPORTANT TO FAIL"

Reacting to the latest initiative, Schwab said: "The Doha round is too important for us to let it fail ... The question is timing, and substance and political will to accelerate."

Schwab said no single country or small group of countries alone could make the Doha round work -- this would require the vast majority of WTO members.

"It is important that each country step up and do what we can do, and then some, to make this work ... We will do our share, the United States will do our share," she said.

But the U.S. trade representative stressed that while Washington was committed to addressing the question of subsidies, it was convinced this needed to be combined with more market access to ensure a successful all-round deal.

"It would have to be in conjunction with a fully-fledged Doha round outcome which included significant market access opportunities, as we believe very strongly that is really where the economic potential lies," Schwab said.

She was among U.S. trade and aid officials attending a forum in Ghana on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a 2000 U.S. law that allows nearly 40 African countries to export some goods free of duties and quotas to the United States.

The meeting in Accra will look at ways to improve and expand the AGOA initiative and will hear an address via video link on Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who cancelled an original plan to attend the forum.