- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Global trade talks likely will hang in the balance next week when officials from the United States, European countries and other nations meet in London and Geneva, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman told lawmakers yesterday.

“If we can’t pull it together next week … I think it’s very difficult to see how we can pull it together in time for Hong Kong,” Mr. Portman said, referring to a mid-December World Trade Organization summit there.

Two of the previous three WTO summits — in Seattle in 1999 and Cancun, Mexico, in 2003 — collapsed as rich and poor nations fought over farm subsidies, access to markets and other economic-development and trade-related issues.

Now the United States, Brazil and other nations are treating the 25-nation European Union as the odd man out. The countries have been pressing Europe to reduce its farm subsidies and tariffs, but France and other EU members have resisted the kind of cuts demanded.

“We expect the Europeans to be more forthcoming,” Mr. Portman said after a House Agriculture Committee hearing on the WTO negotiations.

President Bush, who tomorrow and Saturday is scheduled to attend a meeting of leaders from North and South America in Argentina, earlier this week said countries in the Western Hemisphere should focus on pressing Europe to open its market and advancing the WTO talks.

“There’s a spirit of cooperation between the U.S. and Brazil to get it done,” Mr. Bush said.

He added that the North and South American nations should focus on the WTO talks, dubbed the Doha round, rather than a decade-old proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) among 34 democracies in the hemisphere.

“The Doha round really trumps the FTAA as a priority because the Doha round not only involves our neighborhood, it involves the whole world,” Mr. Bush said.

The United States and Brazil have been at odds over the FTAA, with the South American country demanding that the U.S. dismantle its farm programs in order to gain greater access to its market.

Now the countries appear to want to deal with the farm issue at the WTO.

The WTO in 2001 formally began the Doha round of trade talks, named for the city in Qatar that hosted the meeting. The goal of the talks was to reduce barriers to trade, such as industrial tariffs and agricultural subsidies, as a way to boost world economic growth and help the poorest nations prosper.

Farm trade is the most important and most controversial component of the talks.

Mr. Portman last month offered to reduce U.S. farm subsidies by as much as 60 percent. In return, he demanded that other countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas permanently lower tariffs that keep U.S. rice, wheat, beef and other products out of their markets.

Europe responded with a proposal to lower subsidies and tariffs that other nations consider too tepid.

The sides will meet in London on Monday and Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday in an effort to reach a compromise.

• This article is based in part on wire reports.

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