Trade officials meeting in Europe this week are focusing on preparations for new global trade negotiations. In Washington, the Bush administration is stepping up its efforts to assure that trade talks can be opened by the end of the year.
While trade experts deliberate at World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva, the Bush administration is stepping up its drive to push trade legislation through Congress.
Mr. Bush's Republicans hope to win over enough opposition Democrats to grant the president authority to negotiate trade agreements. A vote on trade promotion authority, which was never accorded to former President Clinton, is expected sometime after September 1.
Judge Morris, who heads the pro-trade Global Business Dialogue, believes Congress will approve trade promotion authority. He is also confident that a trade meeting in Doha, Qatar in November, a follow-up to the failed Seattle trade conference two years ago, will launch new negotiations.
"Unlike Seattle, this time it is clear that the president is committed to getting a round started," said Judge Morris. "President Clinton had mixed motives and he was concerned as much with domestic politics - this was evident from his comments at Seattle linking trade and labor to trade sanctions - which were very, very deleterious to getting a round started."
The U.S. under-secretary of commerce, Grant Aldonas, is similarly confident that new trade liberalization talks will be launched in November. He says U.S. objectives for those negotiations are clear. "There's no doubt that from the broader U.S. position I could lay out three top priorities. One is agriculture, the second is agriculture and the third is agriculture," he added.
According to Mr. Aldonas, American farmers, believing they have a strong competitive advantage, are insistent that subsidies that distort trade in agricultural products be removed. For him, the biggest obstacle to free trade in farm goods is the European Union's labyrinth of regulations and subsidies known as the common agriculture policy.
"If you had to look at the one thing that would alleviate poverty in Africa, where it is difficult for somebody who is herding his goats to compete in a market that is heavily subsidized - not just in Europe, but certainly in Europe most profoundly under the common agriculture policy - what's the greatest poverty alleviation technique? Well, it is making markets work so that individual in Africa can actually earn a living," said Mr. Aldonas
But the United States and Europe, as the world's two biggest traders, have to agree on an agenda in order for a trade negotiation to begin. They failed to do so in Seattle and they remain divided today on many issues - including agriculture. The talks underway in Europe, and particularly ongoing discussions between top U.S. and EU trade officials, are likely to determine over the next few weeks whether a negotiating round can be started this year.