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James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Trade Talks In Trouble As Deadline Passes

By James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

A top US trade official has expressed his disappointment that trade ministers at the World Trade Organization (WTO) failed to meet an April 30 deadline to agree on how to proceed with trade liberalization negotiations, which many say must be concluded by the end of this year.

Peter Allgeier, US Ambassador to the WTO, told a meeting of trade negotiators that failure to meet the April 30 deadline was more than a disappointment; it raises serious questions about our collective commitment to the Doha Round goals of significant liberalization and reform of trade this year. Trade officials had set an April 30 deadline to complete the so-called modalities that would set out the procedures for carrying out negotiations.

A new deadline of July 31 has been set, raising major concerns that it would not be enough time to reach agreement on a wide range of agriculture, industrial and consumer trade issues.

The end-of-2006 goal to complete the negotiations is considered critical, as that would give the US Congress time to ratify the agreement under the president's trade promotion authority (TPA), which expires in July 2007. Under TPA, what will likely be an intricate trade agreement can only be given an up or down vote in Congress without any amendments permitted. With the present mood in Congress with regard to trade, there is no assurance that TPA would be extended.

Both textile manufacturers and importers of textiles and apparel would like to see the Doha Round move forward, but for different reasons. Textile manufacturers are braced for some tariff reductions, but they hope the round would result in something more important to them - a safeguard mechanism that would permit the imposition of import quotas where there is market disruption or a threat of market disruption. Imports see the tariff cuts that will be proposed as part of the Doha Round as a way to get the products they need at the best prices from a wide variety of sources.

Looking at the new July deadline, Allgeier called for negotiators to get serious now and not backload all the tough decisions until July through inaction. "We can bring the Doha Round to a successful conclusion by the end of this year if we stay focused on the job at hand and make the necessary decisions," Algeier said. "We need to do this in the coming weeks. We do not have the luxury of postponing decisions on agriculture and manufacturing modalities until the end of July - we must start to see the shape of the overall package in July." He added the trade ministers have an enormous challenge in the days ahead.

However, he said the United States remains committed to the very highest level of success, and it is prepared to exercise the will, devote the resources, provide the leadership and work with the rest of the WTO membership.

May 1, 2006