Global Trade Talks Stall in Geneva
Trade ministers from nearly 60 countries left Geneva last week after negotiations aimed at breaking the current deadlock in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Development Agenda concluded early and without success. With time running short, prospects for the new global trade agreement have dimmed, but negotiators continue to hold out hope.
"We are disappointed, but we will not be deterred," said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab. "We leave Geneva more determined than ever to stay focused on achieving the promise of Doha."
The negotiations were launched in 2001 in Doha, Qatar, as a way to boost the global economy and help the world's poorest countries. But after five years, many divisions remain. During the recent talks, the United States continued to press for increased market access for agricultural products, the European Union requested additional cuts to U.S. domestic subsidies, and developing countries remained steadfastly opposed to reductions in tariffs on their goods and services.
"We're very disappointed that the ministers were unable to make forward progress on key issues, but we urge negotiators to remain vigilant in their pursuit of an agreement," said Helen Medina, IDFA manager of international and regulatory affairs. "An ambitious Doha deal could provide real economic benefits to our industry, which we may not receive if the talks fail."
Time for concluding the global pact is running out. Trade experts believe that the end of this month marks the deadline for countries to reach agreement, because negotiators will need several more months to complete the substantial technical work necessary before the ministers can sign a final pact.
Upcoming elections at home and abroad also threaten to derail the agreement. Brazil and France face important elections this year, and the United States expects several heated contests for congressional seats this fall.
The most pressing time factor in the United States, however, is the expiration next July of the act enabling President Bush to pass a trade agreement without congressional amendment. An extension of this authority is possible, but not expected.
The Doha talks will likely be on the agenda this week as several heads of state meet in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the Group of Eight summit July 15-17. The G8 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia. Together these countries account for about two-thirds of the world's economic output.
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Posted July 10, 2006