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Envoy: US support for trade deal won't fade

Envoy: US support for trade deal won't fade

The United States' chief trade envoy on Wednesday said Washington would support the struggling global trade talks regardless of which party wins the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said she still hoped to reach a breakthrough in the seven-year World Trade Organization negotiation before leaving her post when U.S. President George W. Bush's term ends January 20.
But should a long-sought agreement to open up farm and industrial markets around the world remain out of reach, she said the next American administration under Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama will continue to fight for a deal.
"I have heard nothing to lead me to conclude that either candidate would abandon the Doha round," Schwab said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "There are only a handful of us who are political appointees. The folks who have developed these negotiating positions, the senior officials who represent the United States year-in, year-out in Geneva are for the most part career officials" who will remain after Bush leaves office.
Schwab, who will meet Thursday with WTO chief Pascal Lamy in Washington, said a lot has been going on "under the surface" since nine days of WTO talks collapsed in July. She said the discussions with Lamy, as with other key negotiators, would now focus on how to secure an autumn revival of the trade round that began in the Qatari capital of Doha in 2001 and came so close to a major breakthrough before collapsing last month. Negotiators will need to get back to the table soon "if we are going to have chance of reaching a near-term conclusion," she said.
The most significant WTO meeting in three years aimed to pull off a broad compromise that, in short, would have let poor countries sell more produce to rich countries while giving the U.S., 27-nation EU and Japan new chances for their manufacturers and service providers in the emerging markets of Brazil, China and India.
While the trade talks have stumbled repeatedly in the last seven years, July's failure was perhaps the most devastating. Faced with global unrest from rising food prices, credit problems from shaky financial markets and the threat of economic downturn, negotiators hoped a deal on farm and manufacturing trade would help alleviate these problems.
It was all the more disappointing because key commercial powers such as the U.S., European Union, China, India and Brazil made greater progress than they had in years on issues such as farm subsidies and manufacturing tariffs _ which were responsible for scuttling previous high-level trade efforts in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003 and Geneva three years later. Ultimately, the breakdown centered on obscure "safeguard" tariffs for protecting agricultural producers in the developing world from a sudden surge in imports or drop in commodity prices.
Schwab, who clashed with top negotiators from China and India over the emergency farm tariffs, said any new push would still depend on "advanced developing countries" making appropriate concessions given their increased importance in the global trading system and the gains they would secure in any trade treaty.
But she rejected the notion that the safeguard alone stood in the way _ then or now. "There were some differences that weren't even addressed," she said.
One of those issues was U.S. subsidies to American cotton farmers, which some countries pointed to after the July collapse. West African countries blame the U.S. payments for unfairly tilting global cotton markets against their impoverished farmers, while Brazil has successfully sued Washington at the WTO.
Schwab said the U.S. stands by a commitment it made to cut cotton subsidies as part of a deal deeper and faster than for other agricultural commodities. But the 153-nation WTO first needs to finalize terms for corn, soybean, wheat and those other products before the U.S. can address cotton, she said.
She said she hopes to get to that point soon, rejecting the claim of some negotiators that a Doha deal is now impossible because of of administration changes in the United States and elsewhere over the next couple of years.
"There are always going to be elections. There are always going to be politics intervening," she said, adding that the U.S. would continue to look for a trade package that generates global growth, alleviates poverty, creates new opportunities for American exporters and combats protectionism at home and abroad.
"If there is a deal out there that meets those criteria, I don't care when it shows up," Schwab said. "We have to go for it. It can't be dictated by our electoral cycle or anyone else's."


Updated : 2021-05-07 18:31 GMT+08:00