Doha Trade Negotiations Collapse; U.S. To Consult on Next Steps

By Bruce Odessey
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - As long-stalled World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations finally collapsed, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab reaffirmed U.S. commitment to a successful conclusion some day and rebutted European Union (EU) statements blaming the United States for the failure.

In Geneva July 24, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy announced indefinite suspension of the negotiations, following a failed meeting among six major participants. The talks are formally called the Doha Development Agenda because they were launched in Qatar in 2001.

Lamy said that concluding the Doha round by the end of 2006, the goal set in 2005, was now impossible.  Suspension could last months or even years.

In a teleconference with U.S. reporters later, Schwab said from Geneva that any possible future Doha agreement could not be submitted to the U.S. Congress under existing trade negotiating authority, which expires in July 2007.

Even so, she said, she and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns were preparing to travel extensively in the weeks ahead to meet with their foreign counterparts about how to move forward.

"We are not giving up now, nor are we going to settle for a mere shadow of Doha’s promise," Schwab said earlier at a hurriedly scheduled WTO meeting.

The collapse came just a week after leaders at the 2006 Group of Eight (G8) Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, issued a statement urging 30 days of intense negotiations to break the Doha impasse. (See related article.)

According to Schwab, however, Lamy could not narrow immense divisions among six major participants over opening agricultural markets and cutting agricultural subsidies, the same issues that have blocked movement almost since negotiations were launched.

She reported that the U.S. and Australian delegations returned to Geneva July 23 ready to offer new flexibility in their agriculture position but that other trade partners in the so-called G-6 - Brazil, the European Union (EU), India and Japan - did not.

"When we started going around the room it was very clear that no one had budged from the positions they took four weeks ago and, quite frankly, four months ago," Schwab said.

Even though the United States was willing to go even further than the 60 percent reduction in trade-distorting domestic support spending for farmers offered since October 2005, she said, some other G-6 parties were unwilling to offer real increases in agricultural market access through lower tariffs and other barriers.

She said the small gains in market access others were willing to offer would have been offset by all sorts of proposed exceptions - for excluding many products altogether and for using broad authority by developing countries for temporarily blocking imports.

According to Schwab, the United States decided against formally offering any new concession on the advice of Lamy, who indicated the G-6 members would have remained far from convergence anyway.

"While the United States has been as much a leader and as forward leaning as could  possibly be imagined,"Schwab said, "unfortunately several key developed country and ... advanced developing country trading partners have not played their role."

Schwab rebutted statements from EU officials blaming the United States for the WTO collapse.  "All of the finger pointing that is taking place is not going to alleviate poverty, not going to help one farmer," she said.

EU officials cannot hide the fact that their average agricultural tariffs are twice as high and their farm subsidies three times as high as those in the United States, she said.

"They have not been a profile in political courage," Schwab said.

A transcript of Schwab's and Johanns' press availability in Geneva, Schwab's statement to a WTO meeting and a fact sheet on the Doha negotiations are available on the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Web site.