Still Ready to Talk
By SUSAN SCHWAB
Wall Street Journal
For several months there has been speculation that the results of the U.S. election could alter prospects for the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations -- either by enabling the United States to somehow unilaterally improve its offer or, in the case of a Democratic victory, by restricting the Bush administration's flexibility. Neither scenario made sense then, and now that the ballots have been cast the U.S. is as determined as ever to move forward.
There is a long tradition in the U.S. of presidents reaching across the aisle to work with Congress on trade issues. President George W. Bush is committed to the Doha Round, and I look forward to continuing to work with members of both parties to win support for an agreement that will spur development and alleviate poverty through new trade flows in agriculture, manufactured goods and services. The real question now is whether other members of the World Trade Organization can agree to lower trade barriers enough to foster new trade flows that will promote competition and economic growth.
First, we need to be clear on what constitutes "success." Scooping up what is on the table right now and calling it a day will not work. Current agriculture proposals from the European Union and groups like the G-10, G-20 and G-33 are either too vague or too full of exemptions to ensure substantial new market openings. Settling for half measures would fail to generate real new trade opportunities and would have the perverse effect of discrediting the WTO. As a matter of principle, we should not accept an agreement that falls short of the development goals which are at the heart of the round and which WTO members adopted at Doha in 2001. As a practical matter, an agreement with limited new commercial opportunities would encounter strong opposition in many countries, while generating virtually no support.
Second, we must be clear that we will not succeed if the bulk of WTO members expect one member -- the U.S. -- to make yet another unilateral move, without any reasonable expectation that others will move in tandem with comparable ambition. But there is a formula for balanced moves by the major trading countries, both developed and developing, that could put us on the path to achieving a successful Doha outcome.
To break the current deadlock, we need commitments that take us beyond current positions in four key areas: (1) substantial improvements by the EU, Japan and other G-10 countries in agricultural tariff cuts, with significant new market access for those "sensitive products" that are exempted from the full tariff cuts; (2) deeper cuts in agricultural tariffs by major developing countries, with meaningful access within their sheltered "special products"; (3) deeper reductions in trade-distorting farm support by the EU and the U.S.; and (4) cuts in the industrial tariff rates that developed and major developing countries charge today, at least across a significant number of goods.
Achieving a breakthrough with these components would open the door for reinvigorating negotiations on services and would enable us to finalize the many other elements that have to fall into place for a final package that works for all 150 members. These include the elimination of subsidies that promote overfishing and improvements in customs procedures to facilitate trade, along with aid and trade support for the least developed nations. Commitments to negotiate the details of the four fundamental points would put the negotiations on a clear path to "success" in the real sense of the word and enable us to negotiate seriously in the other areas of the Doha mandate.
The talks may have been suspended since July, but WTO members still have an opportunity to achieve the promise of trade liberalization and development. Trade rounds come around only every dozen years or so. We must not squander this opportunity by settling for an agreement that creates few new trade flows, spurs no new development and lifts no one out of poverty. The United States is fully prepared to do its share of the heavy lifting, but cannot and will not do it alone. Many of our trading partners share our commitment to an ambitious and balanced Doha outcome. We invite the other members of the WTO to join us.
Ms. Schwab is the U.S. trade representative.