- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

L’AQUILA, Italy | Trying to fight a rising tide of protectionism, leaders of the world’s top economies Thursday vowed to restart moribund global trade talks and have the on-again-off-again negotiations finished by the end of next year.

The leaders, meeting in Italy as part of a summit of leaders from the Group of Eight top economies, also agreed to major reductions in their greenhouse-gas emissions in the coming decades to fight global warming, though major developing countries balked at imposing targets on themselves.

Still, President Obama called the pledge a “historic” achievement in securing at least some commitments from the world’s major greenhouse gas polluters.

Rounding out his second day of meetings here, Mr. Obama also ended up shaking hands with longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who attended a dinner Thursday as leader of the African Union.

The global economic crisis has fueled protectionist sentiment in many countries, including the United States, where the recently approved climate bill in the House of Representatives would impose tariffs on countries that do not limit their greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020.

Fighting back, the leaders of the G-8, joined by leaders of India, Brazil and a handful of other major emerging economies, agreed to try to jump-start the current “Doha round” of trade talks that began in 2001 but have stalled in recent months.

Michael Froman, a deputy national security adviser and Mr. Obama’s chief aide for the Italy summit, said the goal was to “try and break the deadlock that has plagued the Doha round for the last couple of years.”

The Doha round of negotiations was supposed to attack agriculture subsidies and tackle other trade barriers that have built up since the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.

Mr. Froman said setting the deadline for 2010 is still ambitious.

“It’s a reflection, frankly, of the pragmatic facts that it takes a while to complete these rounds,” he said.

In their statement, the world leaders even set deadlines for negotiators to meet on restarting the negotiations.

Still, success will require breaking logjams on politically sensitive import barriers, tariffs and restrictions on access to other countries’ markets on agriculture. Negotiators also need to address trade barriers that have built up in the service economy, officials said.

Past G-8 gatherings have featured similar pledges on trade that failed to produce lasting progress. High-level WTO negotiations faltered shortly after G-8 summits in Russia in 2006, Germany in 2007 and Japan last year.

Meanwhile, the global warming agreements represented a chance for Mr. Obama to take a victory lap.

He chaired Thursday’s meeting that produced the agreement on limiting global temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius - 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit - the figure he said represents the scientific consensus on a ceiling.

Developing nations also accepted the concept of an as-yet unspecified “peak year” after which greenhouse gas emissions would have to decline.

But those nations balked at a call by G-8 leaders to cut emissions in half from their 1990 level by 2050. The developing nations argue they need to see more action by the top polluting nations before they take steps that could limit their own economic development.

The goal among the leaders gathered here is to try to lock down specific targets ahead of a global warming summit set for December in Copenhagen.

Mr. Obama said the roadblocks are understandable, and can be overcome.

“While we don’t expect to solve this problem in one meeting or one summit, I believe we’ve made some important strides forward as we move towards Copenhagen,” he said.

The president again said the United States has not led in the past on the issue of climate change, but White House officials said Washington’s leadership received a big boost after the House last month passed its bill to cap U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions.

Trying to take action on their own, the major economies, under the leadership of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, said they would create an institute to try to push for cleaner use of coal as an energy source.

Speaking alongside Mr. Obama, Mr. Rudd said coal, a major source of greenhouse gases, is actually expected to grow as a percentage of overall energy production.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama met with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who surprised Mr. Obama with a signed jersey from the Brazilian soccer team that defeated the U.S. in the finals of the Confederations Cup in South Africa last month.

Mr. Obama got back his own at the end of the meeting, though, telling the Brazilian leader the U.S. squad will never surrender a two-goal lead again, as it did in that game.

“I was a little frustrated, but Brazil’s a pretty good team,” he told reporters later. “I told him that we’re not going to give up a two-goal lead.”

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