US signals new momentum in WTO talks

By AFP

July 15, 2010 Updated Jun 9, 2009 at 2:01 AM CDT

The United States has said it is committed to outlining a new basis for negotiations over the stalled Doha Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks by August.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on Tuesday Washington endorsed calls from the Cairns Group of major agricultural exporters for the revival of the round as soon as possible.

"Doing nothing, rejecting pursuing an alternative to what we have been doing for the past three rounds is in fact a decision that leads to a failure of Doha, and that is not an acceptable conclusion," he told reporters.

The former Dallas mayor who was appointed to the job by President Barack Obama in March said it was time for a fresh approach to conclude the Doha Round as a stimulus for recovery from the global economic crisis.

He was speaking at the end of a three-day meeting of the 19-member Cairns Group, which accounts for 25 percent of the world's agricultural trade, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Although the United States is not a member of the group, he said he fully endorsed its joint communique calling for world leaders show the "political will" to re-start the Doha Round negotiations after their collapse last year.

"We are in agreement with our colleagues here that we should begin in earnest," he said.

The Cairns Group ministers said senior negotiators should convene at WTO headquarters in Geneva "as soon as possible to map out a clear path towards the negotiations, and to start down that path before the European summer break."

They said they were "deeply disappointed" by Washington's decision to reintroduce dairy export subsidies in response to similar action by the European Union.

"The EU and the US must show leadership by removing these export subsidies in the shortest timeframe," the joint statement said.

"All WTO members must act responsibly and resist the temptation to resort to protectionist measures at this difficult time."

US agriculture under secretary Jim Miller said the subsidy programme was "consistent with our WTO obligations."

"I don't think in any way the reactivation of our dairy export subsidy programme diminishes our longer-term goal of eliminating these types of direct export subsidy programmes through the WTO process," he said.

Kirk met recently appointed Indian trade minister Anand Sharma for the first time on the sidelines of the Cairns Group meeting Monday.

Washington's refusal to accept Indian demands for measures to protect vulnerable industries from a flood of cheap imports contributed to the failure of the last round of Doha negotiations in Geneva last July.

Sharma told AFP the talks were positive but neither side had addressed any of the key sticking points.

"We are not looking at the difficulties, we are looking at the possibilities, to do our best and take this process to its culmination," he said.

"There are no obstacles which are insurmountable."

The Indian minister said he would go to Washington mid-June for follow-up talks with Kirk.

The Doha round of talks started in Qatar in 2001 with the aim of removing trade barriers and subsidies, particularly in agriculture, by 2013.

So far they have been unable to overcome differences between developing countries like China and India, which want the industrialised world to scrap agricultural export subsidies, and Western powers which are seeking greater access for their products in emerging markets.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean, who was chairing the Cairns Group meeting, said he was "enormously encouraged" by the willingness of the US and Indian representatives to re-engage.

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