U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, speaking at the APEC ministers meeting in Big Sky, Mont., on Thursday, said he is not optimistic about a successful completion of the Doha Round of global trade talks.
On the other hand, the ministers said they were making good progress on negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement between nine countries that could bring about free trade with burgeoning apparel production power Vietnam.
“There is no point in disguising the disappointment of the United States that we have, collectively, not progressed in a more meaningful fashion” since the last APEC meeting in Yokohama, Japan, that followed discussions at World Economic Forum in January, Kirk said. These meetings, he said, led him to believe that some progress was being made in the long-stalemated talks aimed at lowering tariffs and other trade barriers among World Trade Organization countries.
“That optimism has not been borne out,” the USTR told the ministers plenary session. “This is not to say that there was not useful work done during the first months of this year.…But, in part because of those additional discussions in recent months, we now have a clearer picture of just how far apart we are on the core question of market access ambition.…From our perspective — and I will be surprised if there is much argument on this point this morning — we are not in good shape.”
Kirk said simply restating a commitment to completing the round, begun in 2001, “rings increasingly hollow.”
“In my view, without abandoning our commitment to the success of the round, we need to begin a hard-nosed discussion of what can be done,” he continued. “We need to explore what next steps we can take to find a more productive path, and, if we find that path, to take it as quickly as possible. While some of this discussion will undoubtedly take place in the context of preparing for our December ministerial conference in Geneva, we should be cautious about creating expectations unless we have a fair degree of confidence that they can be met.”
On a more upbeat note, the APEC trade ministers said after six rounds of negotiations on the TPP pact, between the U.S., Vietnam, Australia, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Brunei, that they were “pleased with the steady and solid progress to date in this highly complex negotiation.” They said more than 20 negotiating teams already have consolidated texts reflecting different countries’ positions in virtually all areas to be covered by the agreement and they are well into negotiations on each of these texts and are working to try to finalize agreement on specific legal commitments across the spectrum of their trade and investment relationships.
“At the same time, the negotiating teams have made good progress in negotiations over access to each other’s markets for industrial goods, agriculture, textiles, services, investment and government procurement,” they added.
The ministers reiterated their goal of reaching the broad outlines of an agreement by November.