U.S. Will Not Abandon WTO Talks Despite Failure in Geneva

By Andrzej Zwaniecki
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The United States has no intention of giving up on World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations despite their indefinite suspension announced July 24, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab says.

The talks, launched in Qatar's capital in 2001, are formally called the Doha Development Agenda. In Geneva July 24, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy announced indefinite suspension of the negotiations, following a failed meeting among six major participants. (See related article.)

"The Doha round obviously is in serious trouble, but it isn't dead yet," said Schwab, who just returned from a meeting in Geneva.  At that meeting the United States, Australia, Brazil, India, Japan and the European Union (EU) failed to agree on how to proceed with the talks. 

Schwab told reporters in Washington July 26 the Bush administration intends to do everything possible to reach a successful conclusion of the Doha round.

But she acknowledged that an agreement on more liberal trade rules among the WTO's 149 members, if it happens at all, is very unlikely to be completed in time for the U.S. Congress to consider it under existing trade negotiating authority, which expires in July 2007.

"We don't know whether we're even going to be able to ... get to ‘yes’ on Doha or will we get to ‘yes’ on Doha in three months, in six months or three years," Schwab said.

She said she has either already talked or is planning to talk to trade ministers from several countries in coming months to explore possible ways of reviving the negotiations. She said she would do this rather than blame others for the negotiations reaching a dead-end.

The EU and India have blamed the United States for the failure of the Doha round, criticism Schwab decisively rejected.

She said the EU and some other countries wanted a more limited agreement that would retain numerous exclusions of sensitive and special agricultural products as well as a special safeguard mechanism for temporarily blocking agricultural imports.  She said that any agreement leaving in place the very highest peak tariffs would have institutionalized them, thus making it difficult to get rid of them in the future.

The U.S. Congress would have been unlikely to approve an agreement that had not lowered tariffs enough to create new trade flows, she said.

Schwab said it is too early to decide whether to complete work on Doha issues on which countries have made significant progress - such as trade facilitation, trade-capacity building and export subsidies - separate from the tougher issues.

"I think we need to let the dust settle a little bit," she said. "We need to think about what all the options are in terms of getting a Doha round accomplished."

A proposal to continue WTO negotiations on trade facilitation suggested by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson was rejected by an EU committee and was met with skepticism by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, according to news reports.

Schwab said the United States intends to pursue "more actively" bilateral and regional free trade agreements.

She said countries with which the United States already has free trade agreements, such as Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, are the most vocal supporters of an ambitious WTO deal.