- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

U.S. and European political leaders plan to make upbeat announcements after an annual summit today, but business leaders remain concerned that diverging policies are limiting prospects for global trade talks and a stronger economic recovery.

The discussions at the one-day meeting in Washington between the Bush administration and leaders from the European Union will include Middle East politics, trans-Atlantic trade, aviation policy, and cooperation in efforts against terrorism and illicit weapons programs.

While the wide array of topics offers the leaders a chance to recover from sharp differences after the war in Iraq, businesses are counting on cooperation that would allow stalled WTO talks to move ahead in time for a September meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

“We believe the summit offers an important opportunity for the United States and Europe to work together to keep the negotiations in the World Trade Organization on schedule for completion in 2005,” Philip Condit, chairman of U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co., and Gerhard Cromme, chairman of German steel and engineering giant Thyssen Krupp, said in an open letter to summit participants.

Success “will help boost worldwide economic growth in the long term,” they wrote as heads of the influential Business Roundtable and the European Roundtable of Industrialists business groups.

But Mr. Condit and Mr. Cromme warn that consensus-building is lagging, and that critical deadlines have been missed in the run-up to the WTO meeting in Cancun.

Obvious differences remain on agricultural support policy, genetically modified crops, access to generic drugs for poor countries and other issues, with President Bush and EU officials lobbing accusations at each other this week.

U.S. officials are expected to push today for agricultural reforms inside the 15-nation European Union as a step toward compromise at the WTO.

But beyond the high-profile differences, business leaders also worry that different rules and regulations governing companies are hurting firms.

“The major problems for U.S. business are not found at the borders,” Gary Litman, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday at a Senate hearing on U.S.-Europe relations.

“Since American companies see themselves very much as part of the European economy and vice versa, it is the EU and member state domestic regulations and public policies which concern us most of all,” Mr. Litman said.

To help reduce barriers to business transaction, governments and the private sector are trying to re-energize the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue. It is an informal association of corporate executives that identifies problems and recommends solutions to political leaders — in theory before high-profile WTO disputes arise.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans and EU Commissioner for Enterprise Erkki Liikanenyesterday met with company officials to map out the future of the dialogue.

The group has deteriorated and does not have active chairmen. Until recently, Mr. Condit had served as a co-chairman.

“This is an opportunity for us to relaunch the TABD. In many respects this has been very helpful in setting an agenda,” said Grant Aldonas, commerce undersecretary for international trade.

In the days preceding the summit, business and political leaders have emphasized the strength and importance of trans-Atlantic business ties to both economies.

“The U.S. commercial relationship with the European Union is unlike any other we have in size, complexity and degree of integration,” Mr. Litman said.

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