Trade talks among the United States, European Union, India and Brazil broke down yesterday in Potsdam, Germany, raising the likelihood that international trade negotiations would collapse.
U.S. officials, though, said the Bush administration is not abandoning hope for the World Trade Organization talks, blaming intransigence by India and Brazil for the talks' collapse.
"The United States is not giving up on the Doha Round," U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab told reporters yesterday by phone from Potsdam, adding that U.S. officials may go to Geneva to meet with World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy and others.
The 150-member WTO had been hoping to reach an agreement by the end of the year. But President Bush's ability to negotiate free-trade agreements without Congress amending them expires June 30 unless Congress renews it, and WTO members are worried the presidential campaign will make trade negotiations impossible.
Trade and agriculture ministers from the four governments began what was intended to be almost a week of talks aiming to reach a breakthrough on slashing farm subsidies and lowering hurdles for goods crossing borders .The global talks aim to add billions of dollars to the world economy and help poorer countries developing their economies through new trade flows.
A joint statement Mrs. Schwab issued with Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the administration was "deeply disappointed."
"We came this week with the commitment to make significant progress towards a successful round. Unfortunately, this week"s negotiations could not generate political consensus to meaningfully open markets to new trade — particularly in manufactured goods," they said.
Mr. Johanns told reporters that, despite recent progress, "we had two countries, India and Brazil, who I don't believe really chose to negotiate."
"I felt we were making great progress," he said. "I felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath us today. In many ways, I feel like Brazil and India came in with an attitude that they would move the goalpost and it seemed like the flexibility, the desire to negotiate that was there on behalf of the United States and, we believe, on behalf of the European Union just wasn't there."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters aboard Air Force One that although the current discussion did not go well, "we are going to continue to try to push it and find another way to try to get it done," she said.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said yesterday he supported Mrs. Schwab's stance.
"I have repeatedly emphasized that no deal on Doha is far better than a bad deal for America"s ranchers and farmers," he said. "I applaud Ambassador Schwab for heeding this advice. India and Brazil offered nothing of substance to U.S. farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and services suppliers. I will not support a Doha deal that does not provide meaningful market access to our exporters."
The National Foreign Trade Council expressed disappointment with the failure of the four parties to achieve a breakthrough.
"There is too much at stake in the multilateral trading system to allow these trade negotiations to fail or to go into a deep freeze. The developing countries stand to lose the most if the Doha round fails," said Mary Irace, the group's vice president of trade and export finance.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue also expressed disappointment, saying the United States "was almost alone in putting a serious offer on the Doha negotiating table."
"Perhaps a period of reflection will bring other nations back to the table with a will to negotiate in earnest," he said.