U.S. Trade negotiators say Washington is committed to a successful outcome of the Doha Round of free trade talks. They say an agreement is possible, but time is running out.
The Doha Round is in trouble. Members of the World Trade Organization had agreed to put all new trade proposals on the table by April 30. They missed that crucial deadline.
U.S. Trade Representative, Rob Portman, flew into Geneva this week from Washington to do, as he says, whatever it takes to keep the talks on track. He says agriculture remains a key to success and ultimately, all countries, rich and poor alike, will benefit from liberalizing trade and from knocking down barriers.
"I would say that based on the conversations I have had this week, the United States is in league with the rest of the membership of the WTO in saying that we need to have new trade flows in order to have new economic activity, in order to have the global economic growth and specifically the benefits for developing countries in this round…Unless there is a more ambitious result in market access than is currently on the table from other countries, there is not going to be a successful round," Portman says.
The Doha Round aims to lower barriers to trade around the world, with a focus on making trade fairer for developing countries
Portman notes a bold proposal made by the United States in October to cut domestic farm subsidies energized the round. But, that momentum since has dissipated. He blames this on the European Union, which he says, has not reciprocated.
The United States proposed cutting its farm subsidies by 60 percent. The European Union also offered 60 percent cuts in subsidies. But, since the EU gives its farmers more than twice as much financial support as the United States, Washington rejected the proposal as too low.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns, says from conversations he has had, he is sure that all countries, developed and developing alike, are passionate in their commitment to the round and in their commitment to market access.
" I believe that trade in agriculture in this world cries out for reform," he says. "There are too many parts of the world where tariffs are too high, where the barriers are too great for trade to occur…I believe we can get agreement in this round. I know time is short. I know the weeks pass quickly, but I am absolutely convinced that if we commit ourselves, we can have success in this round and, therefore, success for the world economy."
The U.S. trade negotiators say proposals have to be ready by early July. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to pull the agreement together.
The World Bank estimates that full liberalization of world trade would boost the incomes of developing countries by up to 259 billion dollars by 2015.