U.S. Wants WTO Breakthrough Within Six Months, Schwab Says

Original Publication Date: 
9 October, 2006

Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- The top U.S. trade negotiator vowed to push for a breakthrough in negotiations at the World Trade Organization within the next six months so that lawmakers can be convinced to extend trade negotiating authority.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told business executives in Washington tonight that convincing Congress to support new trade agreements has become more difficult in recent years, as the bipartisan consensus for opening markets has evaporated.

"We're getting down to the tough stuff," Schwab told the annual dinner of the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents the largest U.S. exporters such as Caterpillar Inc. and Boeing Co.

Negotiations in the so-called Doha Round of the WTO stalled in July, as other nations balked at U.S. demands to lower tariffs in exchange for cuts in farm subsidies. Negotiating authority for the Bush administration is set to expire next July. If it isn't renewed, the ability of the administration to get deals approved by Congress would be curtailed.

A WTO agreement would dismantle market barriers and stimulate economic growth, pumping at least $96 billion into the global economy, according to World Bank estimates. While talks broke down on agriculture trade, much of the benefit of an agreement would go to service companies such as express delivery providers, banks and telecommunications companies, Schwab said.

Tariff Reductions

Schwab said that she is holding individual consultations with other countries to find out how an agreement could be reached. Still, she ruled out any accord at the Geneva-based WTO that doesn't include broad cuts in tariffs around the world.

``It has to be big enough to generate potential sales,'' Schwab said of any possible WTO deal. ``There is plenty waiting to go on in Geneva if we can just get our breakthrough in agriculture.''

In addition to the global talks, U.S. companies need to convince Congress that free-trade agreements are still in the interest of the United States, Schwab said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net