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Outcome of Doha Round of Trade Talks in Doubt

Trade experts participating at a trade forum in Washington said Monday that, despite failure to meet previous deadlines, the global trade liberalization talks launched in Doha, Qatar five years may well produce some results. But, as VOA's Barry Wood reports, there were others who were less optimistic.

Jeff Schott, the trade specialist at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, says the most likely outcome is a modest liberalization that would do little to expand trade.

"It looks like, unless there is a substantial change in Geneva in the next couple of weeks, that we're on a trajectory to have a minimalist package," he said.

World Trade Organization, which sponsors the talks, has set a July 31 deadline for determining whether the talks will move forward.

The Bush administration is pushing for a bigger, comprehensive deal that would significantly expand global commerce. That package has been held up by the inability of the Americans and Europeans to agree to significant cuts in trade distorting agricultural subsidies and by the refusal of several advanced developing countries to lower their barriers to imports of services and manufactured goods.

"If it [the round] fails, it is really going to hurt the developing countries, not the industrial countries," said Franklin Vargo, the trade expert at the U.S. National Association of Manufacturers. "They have the most to lose. They really need to support NAMA [non-agricultural market access]. We have a fork in the road ahead of us, and we have to choose whether we're going to have ambition or if we're going to choose failure."

Fred Bergsten, the director of the economics institute, is pessimistic. He predicts the Doha Round will not succeed and that protectionist forces will become stronger.

"It may turn out that the main fight is to avoid back sliding [towards protectionist measures], that's my big fear," he said.

The Bush administration has been pursuing numerous bi-lateral free trade agreements as a next best alternative to a global trade liberalization accord.