Fill in the gaps on Doha, says US

The United States believes World Trade Organisation members must work hard to fill in the remaining gaps to clinch a Doha deal, not reopen what has been agreed so far, the top US trade official said on Friday.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk dismissed as misplaced widely voiced fears—by Brazil and the European Union among others—that Washington wanted to unravel what has been painfully negotiated over nearly eight years.

“I think a lot of this has been much ado about nothing,” he told Reuters.

Kirk was speaking in New Delhi where India has invited key trade ministers to discuss how to finish the Doha round next year as urged by political leaders.

The ministers want to find a way to inject momentum into the faltering negotiations in Geneva on the Doha round, launched in late 2001 to help developing countries prosper by opening up world trade, rather than negotiate specific issues themselves.

Ministers agree that the basis for completing the talks, which will cut tariffs and subsidies in farm and industrial goods and open up services such as banking and telecoms, are negotiating texts drafted in December after an abortive round of negotiations last year.

But Kirk said those texts were still full of blanks, where the WTO’s 153 members had not yet found common ground.

“Obviously we’ve got to put some meat on the bones in that case. It has never been our argument that we should start all over again or reopen them, but we have to have some idea of what those gaps and blanks are,” he said.

Gaps in perception
Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said he was still concerned some countries—an apparent reference to the US—wanted to change the direction of the talks.

“I still see gaps in the perception of what the package that’s on the table means for different countries,” he told a news conference.

Amorim said it was possible for there to be a little give and take in wrapping up the final points, but countries such as Brazil could not make further substantial concessions.

“All of us are gaining in this round in specific terms but we are gaining more in systemic terms by avoiding further protectionism, by avoiding further fragmentation of world trade,” he said.

But that required individual countries to look at the broad picture rather than continuing to push indefinitely for further gains in different sectors.

“It’s a question of whether the political vision will prevail over special interests,” he said.

Both Amorim and Kirk said they were wary of stating that the deal could be clinched by 2010 as the talks had already missed many deadlines.

But it was useful to set a stretch goal of 2010 if that prompted members to start work immediately on filling in the gaps and working together one-to-one to understand each other’s requirements to bring bargaining to a conclusion, Kirk said.

The US says it cannot put its cards on the table until it understands how the big emerging countries like India, China and Brazil are going to use the exceptions to tariff cuts that developing countries will be entitled to.

Other countries respond that Barack Obama’s administration itself is not clear in expressing its aims in the talks and what it will take to close the deal. Trade, they say, is not the top priority for a White House more concerned with healthcare and pulling America out of the financial crisis.

But Obama pushed the administration’s trade strategy forward on Thursday when he nominated former trade policy adviser and novelist Michael Punke to the open job of US ambassador to the WTO, a key position in the Doha talks.—Reuters