The Doha Development Round negotiations may be about to start on their eighth – or is it their ninth? – life after President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed to try to give the talks one more chance.
The leaders apparently made the decision in a meeting at the White House last Friday, but only made it public in separate speeches – Blair in Pebble Beach, Calif., Sunday night and Bush in remarks before he toured the Port of Miami Monday (July 31).
U.S. and European Union trade officials each have accused the other of causing the negotiations to collapse during a meeting of the G-6 countries in Geneva last month. EU Trade Minister Peter Mandelson last week asked President Bush to veto any extension of the 2002 farm bill after WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy suspended the talks.
“We’ll do everything we can to get Doha back on track,”' President Bush told reporters in Miami. “They have a chance to create new jobs and economic growth, not only here, but elsewhere. The problem is that some others aren’t committed to the talks.”
Following a two-hour meeting in Rio de Janeiro, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim also said they still believe an agreement can be reached – if WTO members are willing to make it happen.
“We believe it is possible, but it won’t fall from the sky,” said Amorim, who has been one of the Brazilian government’s sharpest critics of U.S. farm programs, specifically the cotton program.
Speaking to executives of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Sunday night, Blair said he and the president had agreed to make “one final effort” to revive the talks. Blair indicated he thought the resumption of the negotiations could begin within a few weeks.
“Completing the Doha Round is going to demand tough choices,” the president said in Miami, apparently referring to the European Union’s refusal to consider more than token reductions in its tariff regime on agricultural imports.
Schwab has said a Doha deal could be reached in six months or could take three years. She was in Brazil to try to find common ground with that country’s government. Amorim and other Brazilian leaders have become the unofficial spokesmen for the G-20 group of developing countries that have become leading proponents for changing world trade rules.
“Brazil and the United States are leaders in this effort to help revive the Doha Round, and we see our meeting today as the beginning of a process that we hope our colleagues from other countries will also support,” Schwab told reporters.
She repeated statements she and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns made following the suspension of the talks that the United States is not interested in a so-called Doha “Lite” agreement that would bring few changes in market access in the European Union or in countries with high tariff regimes such as Brazil and India.
The Bush administration has said it wanted to complete the modalities for a new trade agreement by the end of July so that details could be worked out and the final agreement presented to the U.S. Congress for an up or down vote before President Bush’s trade promotion authority expires in July 2007.
The EU’s Mandelson, meanwhile, has said an agreement was unlikely this year and probably will not be completed next year if trade promotion authority is not renewed. “We must avoid burning our bridges. We should try to find a way back to the table,” he said in an op-ed article in the London-based Financial Times.