TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May09/07)
26 May 2009
Third World Network

US continuing to review Doha Round talks, says new USTR
Published in SUNS #6700 dated 14 May 2009 

Geneva, 13 May (Kanaga Raja) -- The United States is committed to a successful conclusion of the Doha Round of trade negotiations and is presently continuing to review the negotiations and see how it could be moved forward, the Barack Obama administration's new Trade Representative, Mr. Ron Kirk, said here Wednesday.

Kirk's remarks came at a media briefing at the end of his first-ever visit to the World Trade Organization.

The USTR indicated that the Obama administration is reviewing the Doha negotiations but that in terms of the overarching review of US trade policy, for the most part, the administration has kind of worked through that process. An overall impression left after the media briefing, and apparently among several trade diplomats he had met, was that the main thrust of the US mercantilist policies have not and will not change, only its tone.

The new USTR arrived in Geneva on Monday for a two-day visit where he met with WTO ambassadors and officials. Meetings included a session with the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries (GRULAC), a meeting with the Chairs of the WTO Negotiating Groups and a working lunch and dinner with several WTO Ambassadors.

On Tuesday, he met with Swiss Minister Doris Leuthard, the African and LDC groups and had meetings with WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy and EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton.

Speaking at the media briefing Wednesday, Kirk said that he had a successful and productive week. In his meetings, he had the opportunity to engage in very frank and candid but useful discussions with many of the trading partners.

One of the key topics of the discussions has been the US intention with regard to the Doha Development Round, said Kirk.

"The US continues to review the negotiations. In fact, part of my rationale for being here this early in my tenure is a continuation of that review and trying to gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives of many of our partners of where we are in the negotiations and the best path for us to go forward."

He highlighted, from the perspective of the US, some of the points that he made in his discussions with delegations here. One is that both President Barack Obama and he are committed to a successful conclusion of the Doha Development Round.

"We see it not only as a critical component of what the President believes should be an overall worldwide response to the current economic crisis" but it's also critical to the sustainment of many of the least developed countries (LDCs).

For the US, success (in the Doha Round) means a "balanced and ambitious agreement with meaningful market access gains for all involved."

Kirk said that the US is critically aware that this is a development round and does not believe that the LDCs should share the biggest burden of this or make the sacrifices necessary in order to bring the Doha Round to a successful conclusion.

The US does believe that there is an opportunity for leadership among many of the "advanced developing countries to make the kind of choices that are required for those of us who choose to seek leadership here at the WTO."

While the US stands ready to work towards a successful conclusion to the Doha Round, Kirk said that it recognizes that its participation is not the only factor necessary to bring the round to a successful conclusion. "It will take hard work and cooperation from all the negotiators at the table to reach the successful conclusion we all desperately desire."

"And we should all be willing to consider changes to the process that could put the negotiations on a more direct path to success."

He said that the US does not believe that the Doha Round should be started over or change its underlying mandate. The US seeks to build on the progress made and find the best way forward. "And we collectively want to think about [a] new path to address the remaining issues."

In response to a question, he said that the US will continue to press and make the case that the emerging economies, in particular Brazil, India, China and to some degree South Africa, "can play I think a very unique and productive role in finding a path to go forward."

In response to another question, he said that President Obama strongly believes that the best help that we can give to some of the LDCs is to get to a successful conclusion of the Doha Round "as soon as possible."

"We haven't set a definitive time-line. We know everyone wants relief now, but we believe the substance of our talks will drive the process, which will ultimately define the time-line," he said.

Asked what he meant by a change in process, Kirk said that with respect to the good substantive work that has been done, "obviously, something needs to happen differently to get us to a successful conclusion. And in as much as the last three times we came together for whatever reason and to try to bring a conclusion to the Doha Round, we haven't been able to do so."

"If we need to look at a different delivery mechanism, let's be open to do that," said Kirk. "But let's not sacrifice the basic underlying principles but make sure that we are open to whatever it is that might drive us to a successful conclusion."

Some media reports in the US suggest that the US administration and Kirk appear to be viewing favourably an idea being floated (initially by Canada) that members should go straight away to schedule their commitments in agriculture and non-agricultural market access, without having to agree on the modalities. This has been interpreted by several developing country trade officials as an attempt to get around the need for the US and Europe to commit themselves to reduce their various agricultural subsidy programmes.

Asked about the cotton issue, Kirk said that the US continues to believe that whether it's the issue of cotton or any other issue associated with the Doha Round, they will best be resolved in the context of the completion of the Doha Round.

In response to another question on what the US contribution to the Doha Round is, Kirk said that the US has one of the most open markets to the developing countries.

He said that what the US believed can be helpful in bringing the Doha Round to a conclusion is to provide an opportunity for meaningful market access for all of the countries involved including the developed and what the US defines as the "advanced developing countries."

He said that for some of the LDCs, their final frontiers are not going to be in the US, but where they can have an opportunity for additional market access is places like India, China, Brazil and South Africa.

"We think it's important that those countries that are growing stronger be invited to the table to see if they can be helpful in perhaps finding ways that we can create additional opportunities for all of us."

Asked when the US would be concluding its review of trade policy, Kirk said that in terms of the overarching review of US trade policy, the US for the most part has kind of worked through that process.

He said that Doha is a bit different because of the extraordinary potential of it but also it's complexities. That review was bumped up to the level of the National Economic Council.

The first stage was the review within the US and the next stage will be the US' continued engagement with its partners here at the WTO now and over the next several weeks "to see if we can collectively come up with some common themes and maybe find that thread that helps us thread the needle to move forward."

We are not locked in to any particular process in terms of whether we stick with negotiating existing modalities or go to scheduling (of tariff commitments). "We are suggesting that we have to be open to all possibilities," he said. +