US Trade Officials Remain Optimistic About Doha Round
By James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent
Despite the failure to meet a key deadline of April 30, US trade officials are optimistic about the opportunities for a successful conclusion of the Doha Round of trade liberalization negotiations by the end of this year. World Trade Organization (WTO) trade officials were unable to reach agreement by a self-imposed April 30 deadline to establish so-called modalities that would provide a specific road map for the negotiations. A new deadline of July 31 has been set.
As the deadline slid by, a trio of top US trade officials held a news conference in Geneva to discuss the future of the Doha Round. US Trade Representative (USTR) Rob Portman, who soon will become director of the Office of Management and Budget; his designated successor as USTR, Susan Schwab; and US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns all contended that while difficult times lie ahead, the round can be salvaged.
Admitting that this is a critical time for the negotiations, Portman said he has been encouraged by the number of countries that are committed to a successful round, and he reiterated the US' commitment to do everything in our power to keep these talks on track to be sure that we end up with a successful conclusion. Portman said he was particularly encouraged by the commitment of WTO member nations to greater market access - one of the key issues for US manufacturers, importers and exporters. At the same time, he said that while the United States has made strong commitments, matching offers from other countries are not there yet. He said unless there is a more ambitious result in market access, there is not going to be a successful round.
Portman's designated successor, Schwab, who has been active in the Geneva negotiations, echoed Portman's sentiments, saying the United States is clearly committed to a successful and ambitious and timely conclusion to the Doha Round.
With agriculture issues among the major sticking points at this time, Johanns said he is energized by the attitude of many of the WTO members. "The encouraging thing to me," he said, "[is I]t does not make a lot of difference whether we are talking to the least-developed, the developing or the developed countries; they absolutely were passionate in their commitment to the round and they were passionate in their commitment to market access."
Most trade officials feel the round must be concluded by the end of this year in order for it to
be ratified by the US Congress before the president's Trade Promotion Authority expires in July.
May 1, 2006