WASHINGTON — Companies and trade groups have banded together to form the American Business Coalition for Doha and spur on World Trade Organization talks to liberalize trade.

“If WTO members, developing and developed countries alike, don’t have the political will to get the job done, we’re going to miss out on a tremendous opportunity for worldwide economic growth,” said John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, at an event to launch the coalition.

The coalition comes onto the scene just as the talks reach what U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman described as a “critical” juncture. The European Union is expected to deliver its plan to better open up global markets on Thursday, answering a recent U.S. plan to cut agricultural subsidies.

“If there is a successful proposal, and I hope there is, although the signs are not encouraging…then we will have to, at a sprinter’s pace, run a marathon between now and the mid-December Hong Kong ministerial meeting,” Portman said.

The ministerial meeting is meant to lay out a negotiating framework to wrap up talks by the end of 2006. In addition to bringing down trade barriers for agricultural goods, the talks are meant to ease the flow of nonagricultural goods, such as apparel and textiles, and services between countries.

“Make no mistake about it, the United States will not be backing off on having a meeting in Hong Kong,” Portman said. “Unless we can unlock the deadlock in agriculture, it will be, as a practical matter, impossible to make progress on the other issues.”

The business coalition’s membership is as diverse as the areas addressed by the Doha talks, stretching from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to New York Life Insurance Co. and agricultural firm Cargill Inc. Among the coalition’s trade associations are the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

“As the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores has a vital interest in the expansion of the international flow of goods, agricultural products, retailer services and financial capital,” H. Lee Scott, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart, said in a statement. “I commend the U.S. government for taking an ambitious approach to lowering trade barriers through the WTO talks.”

This story first appeared in the October 26, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

However, just as many importers see trade barriers as impediments to profits, many domestic manufacturers and labor advocates see trade liberalization endangering U.S. jobs and hurting the U.S. economy.

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