By  on April 24, 2007

WASHINGTON — If countries don't act soon to reenergize the Doha trade talks aimed at reducing tariffs and spurring development in poor countries, the world will be forced to "confront the unpleasant reality of failure," Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization, said here Monday.

In addition to losing out on trade reforms already agreed upon during the negotiations and missing an opportunity to address inequities in the global trading system, failure would be the first time that a round of global WTO negotiations didn't succeed, Lamy told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

"Failure to complete the Doha Round would undermine the system and weaken the ability of member governments, individually and collectively, to stand firm against trade protectionism," he said. "That is a risk which we cannot afford to take lightly."

Launched in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Doha trade talks intended to spur global development by lowering tariffs and other barriers to trade on industrial and agricultural goods as well as services. Concerns in the agricultural area, such as the degree to which rich countries support their farmers, have been a key sticking point in the talks.

Countries are going to have to be willing to go further than they have and they will have to move in concert, said Lamy.

"For the moment, a group of major actors — the [European Union], U.S., Brazil, India — despite being politically committed to concluding this negotiation by around the end of this year, are somewhat paralyzed by fear that any move in the negotiation by any one of them will be pocketed by the others and will not lead to reciprocal moves," he said.

Opponents of freer trade, who view the effort to reshape commerce between the WTO's 150 member countries as a threat, claim current trading policies have opened U.S. producers to unfair competition abroad and have weakened the domestic manufacturing base.

U.S. textile producers and others have pushed for textile and apparel products to be treated separately in the round, maintaining higher tariffs to protect local industries, but there has been little apparent action on that issue lately.The stakes are high. Lamy said trade has helped increase U.S. economic output by nearly 50 percent over the last decade. With purchases by American consumers a key engine for global economic growth, trade ministers in capitals around the world keep a close eye on Washington, where legislators are considering the renewal of President Bush's trade promotion authority. That authority, which would let the President submit a trade deal to Congress without the ability to amend it, is seen as vital for Doha.

"Many U.S. trade partners consider that no movement on TPA means that the U.S. has lost faith in the Doha Round, as if the U.S. was shifting gear from drive into park," he said.

The House is expected to take the prospects for a speedy completion of Doha into account when debating the renewal of the negotiating authority.

"Many WTO members believe we have a window of opportunity which will close unless there is clear progress over the coming weeks," said Lamy.

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