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Bush Pushes for Free Trade at U.N.

President Bush sought Wednesday to jump-start stalled World Trade Organization talks that could further open markets and eventually eliminate tariffs and other free-trade obstacles.

WASHINGTON — President Bush sought Wednesday to jump-start stalled World Trade Organization talks that could further open markets and eventually eliminate tariffs and other free-trade obstacles.

“Today I broaden the challenge by making this pledge: The United States is ready to eliminate all tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to free flow of goods and services as other nations do the same,” the President said, according to a transcript of his speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

The President reiterated his position that “a successful Doha round will reduce and eliminate tariffs and other barriers on farm and industrial goods. It will end unfair agricultural subsidies. It will open up global markets for services. Under Doha, every nation will gain.”

Bush’s remarks help set the scene for the December WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, where trade ministers will try to agree to a framework leading to the completion of the Doha round of talks a year later. Launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, the negotiations have been stalemated since the last major ministerial meeting in Cancún broke down two years ago, primarily over agricultural subsidies in rich nations.

Bush’s remarks, which focused on terrorism and helping the world’s impoverished people, came as fashion week continued its run only a few blocks from the U.N. And the Doha talks could have an impact on fashion by eliminating, for example, the average duty of about 17 percent on U.S. apparel imports.

However, it is the poorest nations that have the most to gain from the freer trading environment envisioned in the Doha talks, Bush said.

“We must tear down the walls that separate the developed and the developing world,” the President said. “We need to give the citizens of the poorest nations the same ability to access the world economy that the people of wealthy nations have.”

Bush, who has advocated for the Doha negotiations before, also sought to up the ante. The injection of Presidential political pressure was welcomed in Washington, where U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson were meeting, partly to prepare for the December WTO meeting.

There is substantial work to be done to reach consensus on agricultural market access and subsidy issues, Portman said.

That work, however, won’t be done by Portman and Mandelson alone, as both stressed the importance of consulting with other nations.

“We will not be coming up with an EU-U.S. agreement that will then be foisted on the rest of the membership,” said Portman, who added that the Cancún talks failed in part because of lack of consultation.

Still, the U.S. and EU, as two of the world’s largest economic engines, need to take on a leadership role, said Mandelson.

“The success of the round is a transatlantic responsibility,” he said. “It is essential that we work to build common or coordinated policy platforms. The rest of the world is looking for us to break though the bottlenecks.”

The importance of the Doha round might extend beyond trade, as well.

“Those in the United States who believe that America needs allies for the great tasks it has to fulfill in the world should recognize that Doha is a key test of our renewed ability to work together for the world’s good,” Mandelson said.