WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said Wednesday that she isn’t ready to give up on the World Trade Organization’s Doha talks, which collapsed Monday after negotiators failed to find common ground on agricultural issues.
“The Doha round obviously is in serious trouble, but it isn’t dead yet,” Schwab told reporters. “The United States, for one, has no intention of abandoning the Doha round or burying it before its time. We fully intend, and I fully intend, to do everything possible to see it to a successful conclusion.”
The talks have the potential to reduce government subsidies, lower tariffs and provide better access to markets around the world for agricultural and industrial goods and services. Launched in Doha, Qatar, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the talks are intended to increase global commerce and alleviate poverty in the world’s poorest countries by eliminating trade barriers.
Doha proposals could cut costs for retailers by lowing tariffs on apparel and clear the way for them to open more stores abroad. Any agreement might also expose domestic textile groups to greater foreign competition.
Still, formal negotiations might not restart for months or even years. Schwab does not expect to have a Doha agreement completed in time to get it through Congress before the June 30, 2007, expiration of President Bush’s Trade Promotion Authority, which strips lawmakers of their ability to amend trade legislation.
The global trade talks are a major part of the Bush trade agenda and complement smaller bilateral and regional trade pacts, such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
The administration will push ahead with the smaller deals, such as a free-trade agreement with South Korea, but Schwab said some issues, like protection of intellectual property rights, are best handled in a global forum.
“You can do them bilaterally, but if you don’t have a global reach, then you’re sort of playing Whac-a-Mole,” she said, getting a laugh from reporters and showing a little bit of the good humor she hopes to employ in resurrecting Doha.
Schwab will be in Rio de Janeiro for three days beginning today to meet with Brazil’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, in an effort to revive the Doha negotiations.
“After the talks broke down, the first person I turned to was Celso Amorim; actually, the first person I turned to was [European Union Trade Commissioner] Peter Mandelson, but he didn’t want to talk,” said Schwab, noting the acrimonious trade relationship between the U.S. and EU.
The EU and the U.S. have accused each other of failing to propose deep enough cuts to agricultural trade barriers to get the negotiations moving again.
“We’re, what, 48 hours away from the crisis, the breakdown, the deadlock, the explosion of, the suspension of talks,” Schwab said. “Feelings are a little raw, a number of countries are trying to think about ‘what next’ and we’re having those ‘what next’ conversations.”
After Brazil this weekend, Schwab takes the U.S. message to other international forums, including a meeting of ministers from the Association of Southeast Asia Nations next month and a gathering of members of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting countries in September.