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US trade chief hopes to revive WTO talks in Geneva

Written by: Staff
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Washington, Apr 26: Outgoing US Trade Representative Rob Portman said he and his expected successor would go to Geneva next week to discuss ways of reviving stalled world trade talks.

''The effort will be to try to figure out ways to break the deadlock and come to a resolution,'' Portman yesterday told reporters in between meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Portman, who has been nominated to become the White House budget director, said he expected to be in his current job for another two to six weeks.

Portman stressed that the United States remained firmly committed to the WTO negotiations despite the pending change in trade leadership. ''We're not backing off one bit from our commitment to the round,'' he said.

Deputy US Trade Representative Susan Schwab also will travel to Geneva early next week, Portman said.

President George W. Bush has nominated Schwab to succeed Portman as the chief US trade negotiator.

Portman and top trade officials from other key WTO members had been expected to meet in Geneva in late April to agree on formulas for cutting domestic farm subsidies and reducing agricultural and manufactured goods tariffs.

Last week, WTO members decided to cancel the meeting after concluding that they remained too far apart to agree on the formulas by the April 30 deadline.

Portman said on Tuesday the United States would have preferred to hold the meeting and believes ministers should get together ''as soon as possible'' in the coming months. ''It's time for us to face the big issues and decide,'' Portman said.

Last October, the U.S. offered to cut the current WTO cap on its trade-distorting subsidies by 60 percent in exchange for big cuts in tariffs on agricultural and manufactured goods.

Still Waiting

Portman said Washington was still waiting for Brussels to offer farm tariff cuts deep enough for a deal to be reached.

But the United States agrees with the EU that advanced developing countries like Brazil and India need to play their parts by offering to lower barriers to imports, he said.

The United States faces pressure to accept even deeper domestic farm subsidy cuts than it has offered so far.

Portman did not rule that out, but said: ''It depends on what other countries come up with on market access.'' At the same time, the man who soon will be in charge of crafting Bush administration budget recommendations said countries such as Brazil are taking a risk if they think domestic pressures are going to force the United States to trim its farm programs even without a new WTO agreement.

''I feel confident in telling you that it will be far more likely for us to see reductions in trade-distorting support if we have a successful Doha round in hand,'' Portman said.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers have proposed a one-year extension of current U.S. farm programs, tied with a one-year extension of the White House's trade negotiating authority, to give WTO members more time to reach a deal.

The current farm law expires at the end of the 2007 crop year and White House trade promotion authority expires in mid-2007. Portman said he would prefer to reach a new world trade deal this year so a farm bill extension isn't necessary.

Reuters

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