GENEVA — The political maneuvering leading up to next month’s crucial world trade talks is intensifying.
Leaders of six powerful business groups from the U.S., Europe, Japan, Canada, Mexico and Australia on Friday urged countries to agree on a blueprint deal at the Hong Kong trade summit and open the way for a successful outcome by the end of 2006.
A final accord in the Doha round of World Trade organization-sponsored talks is vital to opening up markets and stimulating economic growth by lowering tariffs and other impediments to international commercial flows, said the organizations that make up the World Business Leaders for Growth.
“The voice of business has to get louder,” Harold McGraw 3rd, chairman of the U.S.-based Business Roundtable’s international trade and investment task force, told reporters here. The roundtable represents chief executives from leading U.S. corporations with a combined workforce of 10 million and $4 trillion in annual revenues.
Until now, “business has been too quiet,” McGraw said, adding that, from now on, there would be “more activism” from business groups.
McGraw, who is chairman of the McGraw-Hill Cos., said business leaders want the WTO talks to deliver better market access “across the board” for industrial goods, agriculture and services.
Yoshiro Kuwata, chairman of the Tokyo-based Nippon Keidanren’s committee on trade and investment, said, “Now is the time when business sectors throughout the world should be united and extend a strong and clear message to all WTO members.”
The ceo’s, who also met with WTO chief Pascal Lamy, said a new round of ministerial talks starting Wednesday in Geneva might help unblock the bogged agriculture talks.
“That is going to be a very telling session,” said McGraw, referring to the scheduled negotiations among U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and his counterparts from the European Union, Brazil, India and Australia. “A lot rests on this meeting…and Congress is obviously watching this very closely.”
Portman told reporters on a phone briefing Friday that the talks have picked up a new momentum because of a U.S. proposal made last week to break the deadlock on agricultural issues. The offer called for a 60 percent cut in trade-distorting, domestic-subsidy levels and the elimination of export subsidies by 2010.
“There is a much higher level of engagement now with ministers and we’re talking about details, we’re talking about specific numbers,” Portman said. “The U.S. continues to be very supportive of the Doha round. We believe that no other initiative has more potential to generate economic growth. There’s a lot at stake and the clock is ticking. The U.S. has made a strong offer. We await a meaningful response.”
Last week, an industry initiative to treat textiles and apparel separately in the global Doha trade talks caused countries to line up on both sides of the proposal.
Hismayun Aktar Khan, Pakistan’s minister of commerce, said the idea of a separate segment of talks for textiles and apparel “is totally unacceptable.” Khan called instead for quicker implementation of Non-Agricultural Market Access tariff-cutting to remove peak tariffs harming developing country exporters in Africa, Asia and other regions.
A senior Chinese official said a separate track for textiles and apparel “will definitely be unacceptable.”
Portman told reporters on Tuesday, “We do have some sensitive industries that are concerned about lowering some of our own tariffs. But overall, this will be beneficial to the U.S. economy in particular and to the global economy in general.”
Gomi Senadhira, Sri Lanka’s WTO ambassador, said, “We will not agree to take textiles out of the NAMA formula. This is the only avenue to go for some reductions in the high peaks.”
However, Mexico’s minister of economy, Sergio Garcia de Alba Zepeda, said the textiles and apparel sector provides 600,000 jobs and “is very important in Mexico’s regional development.” Zepeda said the industry is “doing its best efforts to move toward more value-added products.”
Asked if his country was receptive to separate talks on textiles, he said Mexico “is reviewing the sector and needs to take the necessary time to have the necessary material to analyze the sensitive industry.”