- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2000

The Clinton administration is trying to restart global trade talks following last year's collapse of negotiations in Seattle, but can point to few tangible signs of progress as the political uncertainties of an election year take hold.
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, in an interview with The Washington Times, acknowledged that the U.S. effort to lay the groundwork for a new round of market-opening talks might not bear fruit before President Clinton leaves office, but said progress made this year could carry over into a new administration.
"This is potentially a longer-term process, but we're actively engaged in it," Mrs. Barshefsky said.
The issues that helped derail the efforts in Seattle by the Geneva-based World Trade Organization to begin a new phase of negotiations remain unresolved, Mrs. Barshefsky said. The United States and the European Union, whose bilateral disputes have frequently stalled WTO talks, are at odds over a number of issues, particularly American demands that Europe cut its sizable agricultural subsidies.
Officially at least, the United States and Europe declared at a summit meeting in Lisbon earlier this month that a new round of WTO negotiations is possible this year.
European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, in a rare commentary on American electoral politics, said in a recent speech that electoral considerations should not delay WTO talks.
"[I]t would be a mistake to say that we should wait for the U.S. elections to be over any more than that we should wait for the French elections, the Japanese elections or the British elections," Mr. Lamy said in a speech.
Mr. Clinton, with a contentious China trade bill nearly behind him, has viewed a new WTO round as the major missing element in the legacy of his administration, which early on in 1994 pushed for passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Mr. Clinton has expressed interest in the status of Mrs. Barshefsky's efforts to restart WTO talks, though he has not become involved in the details, an administration official said.
But privately, trade officials and other observers are, at the very least, deeply skeptical that any serious negotiations can begin before Mr. Clinton leaves office.
"At this point, the most we can expect is some headway in thinking about the major issues in trade," said Robert Zoellick, a former undersecretary of state who advises Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the likely Republican presidential nominee, on trade issues. "The administration is trying to play out the clock here."
The interlocking demands of key WTO members remain the stumbling blocks to any new negotiations. The United States wants to see more open markets for services and agricultural products. The Europeans, by contrast, heavily subsidize their farmers, which distorts international trade.
Europe would also like to see full-fledged international negotiations on investment and antitrust enforcement, two goals Mrs. Barshefsky labeled "preposterous." And most other countries in the world, led by Japan, want the United States to change its laws on "dumped" imports, something Mrs. Barshefsky said is politically impossible.
"The United States cannot support, and does not support, a dumping negotiation," she said.
And the Clinton administration has sought for seven years to introduce labor and environmental issues into trade talks. It has run up against intense opposition from developing countries, nowhere more intense than in Seattle.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Barshefsky has devoted extensive time to trying to restart WTO negotiations, a senior administration official said. Most tellingly, she has taken responsibility for hammering out a blueprint for new talks away from the ambassadors who represent WTO members at the organization's headquarters in Geneva.
This change is apparently a sign of frustration with the process that led to the Seattle collapse, when Geneva ambassadors resolved only the most minor differences before the ministers arrived in Seattle. Instead, Mrs. Barshefsky has dealt directly with other trade ministers in their respective capitals, and will meet with Mr. Lamy next week in Paris.
Mindful that many developing countries felt excluded from the decision making in Seattle, Mrs. Barshefsky has also expanded the circle of ministers she deals with on a regular basis to include India, Brazil, Pakistan and South Africa, a senior official said.

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