US negotiators refused to take the blame for the collapse in Geneva of the latest round of talks among six key players at the World Trade Organisation, which left the WTO’s Doha Round aimed at lowering trade barriers on indefinite hold.
Senior lawmakers said that for now, the US administration should go its own way by pressing ahead with bilateral free-trade pacts with major trading partners such as South Korea and Malaysia.
“The United States was willing to make concessions at the table if some of our other allies wished to do so. They did not,” Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said.
“We’re still willing to be flexible,” he said. “But, on the other hand, the stuff that was on the table at Doha would never have been approved by Congress.”
Pascal Lamy, the WTO chief, recommended that the group’s 149 members suspend talks after the meeting among Australia, Brazil, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States ended in acrimony. He did not say when they might resume.
Snow said the US government would continue “to try to achieve the objectives of the Doha round” in the coming weeks.
The United States and the European Union have traded accusations of inflexibility on the key stumbling block of farm subsidies, while Washington insisted that developing players had to offer much more on industrial access.
“The United States cannot be in a position of negotiating with ourselves”
Susan Schwab, the US Trade Representative
Susan Schwab, the US Trade Representative, said that the EU’s agricultural tariffs were on average twice those of America‘s and its farm subsidies three times as high.
“They (European officials) have not been a profile in political courage here,” she told US-based reporters on a conference call from Geneva.
As a result of Monday’s events, Schwab said, the WTO now looks set to miss a crucial US deadline to forge a trade deal, greatly complicating efforts to get any agreement through Congress.
Once the administration’s “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) expires on June 30 next year, Congress will regain the right to amend trade agreements, leaving any Doha pact hostage to US vested interests.
Schwab said that even though the Doha talks were now on life support, US officials would continue their own contacts “to see if there’s a way of salvaging the round going forward”.
Top officials from the EU, Brazil and India lined up to accuse the United States of intransigence for not coming up with deeper cuts to the handouts it offered its farmers.
But Schwab retorted that aside from Australia, none of the other players had come up with enhanced offers to open up their markets to foreign goods.
“The United States cannot be in a position of negotiating with ourselves,” she said, calling the US offer to slash its domestic farm payments by an average of 60 per cent “the most ambitious out there, full stop”.
US COngress backing
As the blame game raged, leaders in Congress said Schwab and her team had been right to stick to their guns, arguing that no Doha deal was better than a flawed one.
Chuck Grassley, Senate finance committee chairman, said that as long as the EU and India “wear their blinders, we’ll never see eye to eye on a good trade deal, and poorer countries will pay the highest price”.
Bill Thomas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives, said the EU had “made a mockery” of the Doha negotiations.
“It is unfortunate that the EU decided to impede this critical advance, but the United States will continue to work with the tools at our disposal, such as the pursuit of bilateral agreements, that will open markets and enhance economic opportunity,” he said.
Meanwhile, Canada has expressed disappointment at suspended World Trade Organization talks.
“This is very disappointing for Canada and for all developed and developing countries, given the significant economic benefits that could have been achieved through an ambitious outcome to these negotiations,” David Emerson, Canada’s International Trade Minister, said in a statement on MOnday
“We are a nation that depends heavily on international commerce, and our government will continue to focus on more liberalised trade, the rules-based multilateral trading system and the objectives behind Doha negotiations,” he said.