Kirk Highlights Need For New Doha Ideas, Doha Review Bumped Up To NEC

Original Publication Date: 
13 May, 2009

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk in a series of private and public
gatherings this week in Geneva stressed the need for trading partners to
consider new ideas to help break the current impasse in the Doha round
of global trade talks, but also said the U.S. would look to build on the
work done so far rather than scrapping it.

 

"We seek to build on the progress that we've made and find the best way
forward, and we collectively want to think about a new path to address
the remaining issues," Kirk said in a May 13 press conference
< http://www.insidetrade.com/secure/pdf13/wto2009_2494.pdf > in Geneva,
according to a transcript of his remarks. "[O]bviously, something needs
to happen differently to get us to a successful conclusion."

 

U.S. officials in Geneva have suggested that one such new path could be
cutting to the scheduling of tariff cuts early in the Doha talks, even
as modalities agreements in agriculture and industrial goods remain
incomplete (Inside U.S. Trade, May 8
< http://www.insidetrade.com/secure/show.asp?dn=INSIDETRADE-27-18-2 > ).

 

But Kirk did not aggressively champion that idea in his closed door
Geneva meetings this week, and conveyed a similar message in the press
conference.

 

"We are not locked in ... to any particular process in terms of whether
we stick with negotiating existing modalities or go to scheduling. We
are suggesting that we have to be open to all possibilities," Kirk said
in the press conference.

 

The idea of early scheduling is largely resisted by trading partners and
has been rejected by the Group of 20 developing countries, which
includes such major players as Brazil and India. In addition,
ambassadors from Switzerland, the European Union and others raised
objections to that approach in a private meeting with Kirk this week,
sources said.

 

But Kirk signaled in the press conference that trading partners should
remain open to new ideas from the U.S., despite initial apprehensions.
He said that overall, foreign countries are celebrating the change in
tone and style of the Obama administration generally, but seem to be
exempting any change to the Doha round talks.

 

"[T]he one place that we are sort of being asked to stand still in terms
of where the previous administration left off is with respect to Doha,"
he said. He added that was "somewhat curious."

 

The U.S. continues to review its position in the negotiations, and that
review has been bumped up to the National Economic Council in the White
House because of the "extraordinary potential" of the Doha round, as
well as its "complexities," he said.

 

While the first phase of the Doha review was internal, Kirk said the
second phase is engaging with foreign trading partners on their ideas,
such as through the trip this week to Geneva. "[W]e will continue engage
our partners now and over the next several weeks to see if we can't
collectively come up with some common themes," Kirk said.

 

Several sources said Kirk conveyed the impression in private discussions
that the U.S. review of its position on the Doha round could take
several more months, setting up the possibility that the U.S. would be
in a position to take a firmer stance around the time of the G8 summit
of world leaders in Italy in July.

 

One source said it was clear Kirk was not rushing to formulate a
concrete U.S. position in the talks and that message was also apparent
in the press conference.

 

"We haven't set a definitive timeline. We know everyone wants relief
now, but we believe the substance of our talks will drive the process
which will ultimately define the timeline," Kirk said at the press
conference.

 

Kirk contrasted the review on the Doha round in particular to the
overarching review of U.S. trade policy, which he signaled was
essentially completed. "[I]n terms of our overarching review of our U.S.
trade policy, we have for the most part kind of worked through that
process," he said.

 

The new USTR also made clear for the first time that the U.S. would not
seek to change the underlying mandate of the Doha round by, for example,
expanding the existing mandate on topics related to environmental
protection.

 

"The United States does not believe that we should start the Doha Round
over or change its underlying mandate," Kirk said at the press
conference.

 

At the same time, Kirk did not offer answers to many key questions in
private meetings this week, such as whether the U.S. considers the
latest draft negotiating texts issued last December to be the basis for
future negotiations, sources said. In addition, he did not respond to
questions about the administration's plans for securing fast-track
authority, which would be necessary for passage in the U.S. Congress of
a Doha round deal, sources said.

 

Several Geneva sources said they told Kirk that the U.S. should proceed
using the latest draft negotiating texts as the basis for negotiations,
a demand also made by the American Farm Bureau Federation and other
agriculture groups as well as the National Assn. of Manufacturers.

 

Overall, Kirk reiterated the message this week that advanced developing
countries, such as Brazil, India, China and South Africa, need to offer
more market access in the talks. He also said the U.S. seeks greater
clarity on what it will receive in terms of market access at the time of
a breakthrough deal in agriculture and industrial goods.

 

In response, many trading partners this week stressed that the U.S.
cannot simply demand further concessions from other trading partners, as
all countries have constituents that are unhappy with some aspects of
the deal as it is now emerging and are seeking a different outcome as
well.

 

Kirk reiterated the U.S. commitment to the negotiations. "We see it not
only as a critical component of what the president believes should be an
overall, worldwide response to the current economic crisis, but it's
also critical to the sustenance of many of our least developed
countries," he said.

 

In private meetings, Kirk added that President Barack Obama has tasked
him with the job of making trade more popular, according to Geneva
sources.

 

Kirk met in a lunch on May 11 with ambassadors from Japan, India,
Barbados, Switzerland and the EU, and held a lunch the following day
with ambassadors from a group of countries including Indonesia, South
Africa, South Korea and Mexico, sources said.

 

He also met with a larger group of ambassadors from Latin American
countries, held a meeting with the chairmen of the negotiating areas in
the Doha round, and met with World Trade Organization Director-General
Pascal Lamy. Kirk had dinner on May 12 with EU Trade Commissioner
Catherine Ashton.