- The Washington Times - Friday, November 9, 2001

The countries gathered today for another round of trade talks in Doha, Qatar, have the prospect of a global recession hanging over them not to mention a shadowy, unquantifiable terrorist threat. Given these factors, the delegates have demonstrated an admirable defiance of present dangers, particularly given the attack on U.S. servicemen at a Qatari air base Wednesday.
In the wake of September 11, events that may have once seemed just moderately consequential have taken on a weightier sense of import. This is particularly true for the five-day meeting of ministers and officials from the World Trade Organization's (WTO's) more than 140 members. In times of financial crisis, the reflex of many policy-makers around the world is to close off their economies, erecting barriers to the movement of trade and investment. When coupled with murky terrorist threats, the temptation to seal off borders to the flow of people and goods becomes even more pronounced.
For this reason, it is critical that the representatives of WTO countries steel their resolve to take steps to open their economies. Unfortunately, since Congress hasn't yet given the president trade promotion authority or fast-track negotiating authority, as it used to be known, which permits U.S. officials to negotiate trade agreements without fear that Congress will tinker with the result the Bush administration is at something of a disadvantage.
The success of this WTO meeting is critical to national interests in ways that include, but also transcend, economic priorities. Since September 11, the United States has assumed an especially proactive leadership role. Today, it is incumbent on America to stand for freedom, both economic and political, and to widen the reach of those forces as far as possible giving people across the world a better opportunity to pursue their dreams and provide for their families. Furthermore, President Bush may well want to consolidate his global counterterrorism coalition with closer trade relationships with other countries.
The United States will face some formidable challenges in Qatar over the next few days. Perhaps these challenges are best illustrated by the gas masks and antibiotics that the Taiwanese delegation has come equipped with and the medical team the Japanese have brought along. Still, there are plenty of major trade issues as well. U.S. officials shouldn't shy away from broaching the issue of EU export subsidies. The WTO has ruled against the United States on its own tax-based export subsidies, and the United States ought to come into line with WTO rules. It should pressure the European Union to uphold the same. Meanwhile, the United States should lower the high tariffs it imposes on selected industrial goods, such as imported trucks and sports footwear and urge the European Union to follow its lead.
Even more importantly, members need to make progress on getting a new trade round under way. WTO countries ought to view the security and economic pall hanging over their meeting as an impetus for liberalizing trade. There is too much at stake to give in to the inertia that has dominated past WTO meetings.


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