USTR - Kick-starting global trade talks
The Office of the United States Trade Representative

Kick-starting global trade talks
Op-Ed by USTR Rob Portman International Herald Tribune 05/02/2005

WASHINGTON Over the next few days, dozens of trade ministers will gather in Paris for an annual meeting of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. Top on the agenda will be the current round of World Trade Organization talks. Having been confirmed by the U.S. Senate just days ago, I am looking forward to joining my new colleagues in these sessions to promote global economic growth and prosperity through reducing trade barriers.

I share President George W. Bush's vision of using the power of trade to pull people up and expand political as well as economic freedom. He has charged me to build on his agenda of opening markets globally through the WTO; regionally through free trade arrangements in Latin America and the Middle East; and bilaterally through Free Trade Agreements. As I made clear during my nomination process, I will also focus on leveling the playing field and enforcing our trade agreements.

The focus of our work in Paris is the pro-development agenda agreed to by WTO members at their meeting in November 2001 in Doha, Qatar. Reducing remaining global trade barriers has the potential to help lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. There may be no other single action we could collectively take over the next couple of years that would deliver such broad and long-term benefits as bringing the current round of trade talks, known as the Doha round, to a successful conclusion.

The United States and the European Union have played a leading role in this round, and I believe this must continue. While disagreements such as the Airbus-Boeing dispute are significant and grab the headlines, our healthy, $1.6 trillion trans-Atlantic economic relationship testifies to the larger ties that bind us.

As the two largest trading powers among WTO members, we owe it to the multilateral system to manage our disputes while continuing to work together on the Doha round and other shared objectives. From opening markets for goods and services to reducing agricultural trade barriers as part of an ambitious agriculture package, to dealing with the end of textile quotas, to integrating China into the global marketplace, the United States and the EU have much in common. I believe that I can work well with the EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, a fellow former legislator, to find that common ground.

U.S cooperation is necessary, but alone not sufficient. Other voices are rightly being heard, and active efforts are going on in informal gatherings large and small, with participants from Brazil, Japan, India, Kenya, China and other countries, all trying to find a path forward that will yield benefits for all. These efforts should and will continue.

The promise of these global trade talks can only be fully realized with deep and balanced ambition in the three core areas of market access: agriculture, goods and services. The pace of the talks has been lagging of late, and it is the responsibility of those of us at the ministerial level to narrow differences and provide political guidance to negotiators. The ministerial meeting in December in Hong Kong will only be successful if we use the next several months to make as much headway as possible.

As a member of Congress, I was in Seattle for the WTO summit meeting in 1999 and saw first-hand how trade negotiations can unravel. And as a former trade lawyer and legislator deeply involved with the U.S. trade agenda for the past 12 years, I know these are tough issues. But, after three and a half years of discussions, the Doha round is at a critical stage.

It seems to me we have a few responsibilities we must heed: First, because the negotiations have lagged, ministers must understand the urgency of our work.

Second, to make the most of the short window of time, ministers must empower negotiators in Geneva to make decisions and to bridge differences in as many areas as possible. Clearing as much underbrush away is necessary to make the Hong Kong ministerial meeting at year end a success.

Third, we must recognize that there are no shortcuts to success. Every WTO member has economic ambitions as well as politically sensitive areas. We must find the balances that will allow all WTO members to bring home a win-win package they can present to their people.

Finally, the WTO will soon select a new director general who can provide the tactical and strategic leadership to steer the negotiations to a successful and ambitious conclusion. In Paris this week we can re-energize the Doha round. There is no time to waste.