Time is Running Out, But Hope Springs Eternal
Global trade community ''won't let the opportunity for a successful WTO ministerial pass,'' says USTR
WASHINGTON, DC - 11/18/05 - The US is still "hopeful" that long-stalled World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations can succeed because member countries agree on the importance of achieving success.
Briefing reporters at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Busan, South Korea, US Trade Representative (USTR) Rob Portman rebutted suggestions that - just a few weeks before a crucial WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong - the negotiations seem bound to fail.
"The countries of the world seem to agree on the importance of coming to a conclusion on this round because it's the one way we can think of to truly dramatically increase economic growth and alleviate poverty," said Portman.
"We don't believe the world community will let this once-in-a-generation opportunity slip past us."
The negotiations - formally called the Doha Development Agenda - have stalled over politically sensitive agricultural trade issues almost since they were launched in 2001.
The US attempted to revive the negotiations last month with the submission of a proposal for sharply reducing domestic support for farmers and agricultural tariffs.
A counter-proposal offered by the European Union (EU) was viewed by other WTO members - the US, Brazil, India, and Australia, among others - as offering little or no real tariff reduction.
The EU refusal to budge further has been blamed for creating another impasse.
"The European Union has not been willing to agree to real changes in market access," the USTR said.
He was quick to add, however, that trading partners outside the EU also are resisting lower agricultural tariffs, notably the G-10 group of agriculture-importing countries, which includes APEC members Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
"I believe that if we can solve the agriculture issues, the other pieces will begin to fall in place fairly quickly," Portman said.
"But I also understand the EU's concern that if they agree to provide real market access to their markets and a framework for the global markets, then they need to know that there will also be for their economy reductions in industrial tariffs and reductions in barriers to services."
Ahead of the APEC leaders' summit, APEC trade ministers adopted a statement urging successful completion of the Doha round by the end of 2006.
"Ministers agreed that the 6th WTO Ministerial Conference…would be a critical step in achieving this goal and that significant progress must be made in the Ministerial in resolving considerable divergences, and a clear roadmap for completing the Round in 2006 must be established," according to the APEC statement.
The Hong Kong WTO ministerial meeting is scheduled for December 13-18.
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