DDA Fate Still Unclear - USTR Schwab

Original Publication Date: 
27 September, 2006

Some progress is quietly being made at the technical level on the stalled World Trade Organization Doha Development Agenda trade talks, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said yesterday - but it still remains unclear whether an agreement can be reached (see related report this issue).

Ms. Schwab meets today with European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson to discuss both Doha and bilateral issues, but told reporters not to expect any breakthrough.

The USTR was on Capitol Hill yesterday afternoon to update House and Senate members of the Congressional Oversight Group on Trade about Doha and a wide range of pending trade matters. At the same time, Mr. Mandelson was also on the Hill, having his own set of meetings with key lawmakers - mostly representing agricultural interests. He will continue meetings today and with the American Farm Bureau Federation on Friday.

Mr. Mandelson refused to talk to reporters.

Not By Washington and Brussels Alone

Following the COG meeting, Ms. Schwab reiterated her belief that Washington and Brussels alone cannot produce a WTO agreement. She has been engaged over the past few months in a series of bilateral and group meetings involving both developed and developing countries. Those have been more fruitful - allowing countries to probe "boring but critical issues like the handling of 'special products' and the treatment of 'sensitive products'" - and to even make some progress on a technical level.

But whether those discussions will ultimately result in agreement is uncertain because big differences remain, the USTR stated.

Senate Agriculture Committee members said they told the EU's Mandelson that Brussels needs to make the first move to get back to the negotiating table in Geneva. "When they give us true market access, then I think you will see some movement on this, but to date, as we told Mr. Mandelson today, we simply don't think the offer they've made is commensurate with our significant reduction in domestic support proposal," Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga) said. Until then, the Doha round will remain at a stalemate.

In her meeting with lawmakers, Ms. Schwab discussed legislation the Administration wants complete this year - including renewal of expiring trade preferences programs and permanent normal trade relations status for Vietnam (WTD, 9/27/06). House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif) told reporters he expects Vietnam PNTR, Peru free trade agreement implementing legislation and his bill (HR 6142) to extend the US Generalized System of Preferences and African Growth and Opportunity Act third country fabric provision will be approved in the post-election "lame duck" session.