WASHINGTON — President Bush and European Commission President José Barroso, trying to jump-start the Doha trade talks, pushed their negotiators Monday to break the deadlock that has stalled negotiations since July.
“We both recognize that the best way to help impoverished nations is to complete this Doha round and to encourage the spread of wealth and opportunity through open and reasonable and fair trade,” said Bush, flanked by Barroso in the Oval Office.
The trade talks, launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, are intended to boost the economies of developing nations by lowering tariffs and reducing subsidies on agricultural and industrial goods, such as apparel and textiles, and services.
Depending on the different parties’ perspectives, the talks could lower prices for companies and consumers or open the market to a flood of low-cost imports that would threaten U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Apparel and textiles goods might also be handled separately from other sectors in the negotiations, in which case the discussions could set up new conditions that could alter trade in other ways.
The actual impact is still academic because talks broke down this summer over differences in the agricultural portion of the negotiations.
“There is now the defining moment,” Barroso said. “We gave instructions to all negotiators to come up with a solution as soon as possible.”
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson took their marching orders at the meeting. There is no indication whether a breakthrough might be near, although the political rhetoric is more positive than it has been in months.
“Perhaps there’s some stirring of momentum here and that is a welcomed change,” Schwab said at a news conference with Mandelson.
However, she said, the U.S. and EU cannot move the talks ahead on their own.
“It will require multiple countries participating and it will require not just progress in agriculture, where the U.S. and EU have had our principle difference, but also in manufacturing and services,” Schwab said.
There is still little indication when the Doha round, already far behind its initial schedule, might be wrapped up.
“Sooner is better, but the content will dictate over chronology,” Schwab said.
Bush’s trade promotion authority, which lets him submit trade deals to Congress for an up or down vote, with no chance to amend the agreement, expires at the end of June and the timing might spur negotiations. It is not clear whether trade promotion authority will be renewed by Congress.
Such legislative issues in the U.S., and political and other reasons around the world give the talks a window of hope for the new few months, said Mandelson.
“The real danger is, if we do not achieve the breakthrough we’re seeking in the first quarter of this year, the window will close and it will take some years to reopen,” Mandelson said. “I think we’re in the endgame.”