Kirk Opens Drive to Revive Doha Round To Achieve Successful Conclusion to Talks

Original Publication Date: 
12 May, 2009

GENEVA-United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk met with representatives of key World Trade Organization member countries May 11 for a first round of exchanges on how to get the stalled Doha trade talks back on track and towards a successful conclusion.

"The world has given us an opportunity to reset our relationships with a lot of our partners, so this is as much an opportunity for me to hear their perspectives as much as to share mine," Kirk told reporters before the first of his meetings.

"We're going to listen, I'm going to follow the lead of the President (Obama)," Kirk added. "The world has been remarkably impressed with his willingness to engage our partners around the world in a thoughtful way, but to do that first by listening."

Kirk met Monday with Geneva-based trade diplomats from Latin American and Caribbean countries, with the chairs of the Doha negotiating groups, and held working lunches and dinners with several WTO ambassadors, USTR said.

Kirk is due to meet May 12 with European Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, Swiss trade minister Doris Leuthard, and representatives from African and least developed countries.

'Hard Choices' Ahead for Developing Countries

Trading partners are still awaiting signals from the Obama administration on U.S. policy towards the Doha negotiations. Kirk said April 23 at a speech at Georgetown University that USTR was still reviewing the Doha negotiations and would say more in the coming weeks about how the round can move forward (77 DER A-8, 4/24/09).

Kirk added the United States was committed to a successful conclusion to Doha but some that advanced developing countries that have claimed a bigger role in the round must compromise and make "hard choices" about market access.

An official at the meeting with Latin American and Caribbean delegations said that Kirk largely repeated the Georgetown message but offered no further insight into U.S. thoughts on getting the Doha negotiations moving again.

The official said Kirk was quizzed by some delegations about a U.S.-Canadian initiative on an alternative negotiating approach to the Doha talks, but that the USTR offered no additional details.

U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Geneva have been quietly suggesting a new approach under which WTO members would turn their focus away from securing framework deals, or "modalities," on agriculture and industrial tariffs and instead initiate bilateral negotiations on line-by-line tariff concessions.

U.S. Doha Position Still Under Review

The approach would address U.S. complaints that the draft modalites packages currently on the table make it clear what the United States would have to pay to get a Doha deal but does make it clear what new market access opportunities, if any, U.S. exporters would gain in key markets, particularly in emerging economies.

Carol Guthrie, spokeswoman for USTR, said there was no timeline for competing its review on the U.S. position in the Doha talks (see related report in this section). "We need to talk to our trading partners to get their perspective as we review the status of the negotiations," she said.

Meanwhile, Kirk said he was hopeful that the May 6 U.S.-EU provisional deal on beef would lead to a permanent solution that would open the door to resolving other outstanding transatlantic trade disputes.

Kirk noted that he met Ashton March 19 only hours after he was confirmed as USTR by the Senate, and the two agreed it was "a tragedy that so much of our time was spent in dispute matters.and if that we could attempt to resolve any of those by direct negotiations, very difficult negotiations, that anything we could get agreement on would enable us to focus more on the positives."

"Assuming that we get the beef issue finally put to bed, which we're 99 percent there, then we'll look and see if there are other issues that we might be able to address," Kirk added.

Among the biggest bilateral trade disputes still lingering on the transatlantic trade agenda are the U.S.-EU feud over European restrictions on the marketing of products containing genetically modified organisms, and the battle between rival aircraft giants Airbus and Boeing over allegations of illegal state subsidies for each company.

A WTO dispute panel has already ruled against the EU's de-facto moratorium on GMO approvals as well as EU member state GMO bans, with the two sides still in negotiations on how the EU will comply with the rulings.

The WTO panel reviewing the U.S. complaint against alleged illegal subsidies to Airbus is due to issue a preliminary ruling sometime in the second half of 2009. No timetable has been set for the issuance of the separate panel's ruling on the EU complaint against Boeing.

By Daniel Pruzin