WASHINGTON — Trade officials have been unable to bridge gaps in key areas of global trade talks aimed at prying open markets in 146 countries, ahead of a watershed meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in 13 days.
WASHINGTON — Trade officials have been unable to bridge gapsin key areas of global trade talks aimed at prying open markets in 146 countries, ahead of a watershed meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in 13 days.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier, who briefed reporters Wednesday after a meeting with officials at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, said countries are still divided on thorny issues such as tariff elimination for agricultural and industrial products, although they have found some common ground on the issue of patented drugs for poor countries.
“The stakes are high — they’re high for the WTO as an organization, for the global economy and for individual economies,” said Allgeier. “As we approach Cancun, our aims, the U.S. aims, remain the same, which are to seek a high level of ambition in opening markets and expanding trade for all countries.”
Cancun is the midway point in the so-called Doha Round of global talks launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, which aim to create new trading rules in a global accord by early 2005.
Developed countries, led by the U.S. and the nations of the European Union, are attempting to push forward the Doha Round of talks in advance of the Cancun meeting Sept. 10-14 to ensure the talks stay on track so they may conclude by January 2005. But the deadlock over market access and agriculture talks, which is seen as the principal driver of the negotiations, is casting a dark cloud over the meeting in Cancun.
“Frankly, as you survey the various countries, the U.S. is practically alone in being an advocate of high ambition across all aspects of trade,” Allgeier said.
Countries like Brazil are a strong advocate of liberalizing agriculture but not market access or services, while India is a stronger advocate of loosening trade rules in services but not in agriculture, he said. Allgeier also stressed the U.S. is seeking to address the issues of developing countries that dominate the trade talks in terms of numbers.
“We’re seeking to accommodate their needs within the single trading system,” he said. “We do not want to be setting up a bifurcated or two-tier system.”Even trade veterans are concerned about the discord in advance of the talks. U.S. importers and retailers, which are pushing for complete tariff elimination on apparel and textiles, said it is difficult to predict whether developed and developing countries can reach a broad consensus on any of the key areas.
“The real issue is how much countries are willing to work ahead of Cancun on market access and agriculture, which are key,” said Brenda Jacobs, counsel for the U.S. Association of Importers of Apparel & Textiles.
Failure to reach a consensus on a framework for reducing or eliminating subsidies and tariffs in agricultural products, as well as an outline on how to eliminate tariffs on industrial products, could deal a blow to the entire round of negotiations, she said.
“That would add to the burden of Cancun,” said Jacobs. She noted that in Seattle, the last round of trade talks that completely collapsed in 1999 amid protests from developing countries and thousands of antiglobalization protesters, too much was left undone in advance.
Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel for the National Retail Federation, said he finds it “worrisome” that trade officials do not agree on the framework alone in advance of Cancun.
“But we remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached on substantial tariff cuts across the board,” Autor said. “Retailers liked the [original] U.S. proposal to eliminate all tariffs by 2015, but whether that emerges, especially given the issue of special and differential treatment for developing countries, remains to be seen.”
Conversely, domestic groups are lobbying for other countries to lower their apparel and textile tariffs to U.S. levels before the U.S. makes any more reductions.
Cass Johnson, interim president at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, said: “Developing countries have become more united and more aware of their strength in numbers, and that has put additional strains on the ability to come to any consensus. My impression is developing countries are pushing too hard and developed countries don’t have the political room to give, and that can stalemate the round for a while.”
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