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New Signs of Life In Doha Trade Round

A top U.S. trade official says she is hopeful that long-stalled talks on a global free trade agreement can be revived. The official, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, spoke to reporters after meeting Friday with the director general of World Trade Organization. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WTO headquarters in Geneva.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab met for three hours Friday with the WTO director-general, Pascal Lamy. She says their talks were detailed and useful and mark another step toward getting the Doha Round back on track.

The Doha talks -- so named because they were launched in the capital of Qatar -- began in 2001 but WTO director general Lamy halted them in July because of divisions among the major trading nations.

But Schwab says a great deal of work aimed at building confidence among nations has been going on in bilateral and small group discussions since July.

While she acknowledges WTO's trading partners have a long way to go before they achieve a breakthrough, she believes advances are being made. "We are making, finally making, progress on … a technical level and increasing understandings that are prerequisite to ultimately getting to real tradeoffs.... And, while it is too early to tell if we will succeed, I personally am more optimistic than I have been in many months that we are on a path that could enable us to reach a successful conclusion to the Doha Round," he said.

The goal of the Doha talks is to alleviate poverty and boost the global economy, but they have been stalled primarily because of disagreements among the major trading powers.

The European Union wants the United States to cut trade-distorting subsidies to its farmers. Washington resists this and is calling on the E.U. and on the big developing countries, such as Brazil to make deep cuts in tariffs on agricultural imports.

Another dispute pits the developing and developed countries against one another. The developing countries want lower tariffs on their agricultural exports to U.S. and European markets. For their part, the major trading powers want greater access for their goods and services in developing markets.

Schwab says the United States is committed to making cuts in trade-distorting domestic supports. "How much is done in cuts in trade-distorting domestic support is directly related to how much market access is on the table. You know, meaningful new market-access, new trade flows. So, there is no single number that is going to generate a breakthrough and there is no single country that can generate a breakthrough. There really is going to have to be a collective of key players and then the broader WTO membership getting engaged," he said.

The U.S. Congress has given the White House authority to negotiate a trade deal until the end of June. Trade experts warn Doha has to be concluded before then, otherwise an agreement may not be possible for many years.

But Schwab says substance will dictate a breakthrough, not the calendar. If a good deal is in the offing, she says she is sure Congress will support an extension of the deadline.