- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett warned yesterday the world’s leading economies were in danger of “sleepwalking over a precipice” if they fail to revive faltering global trade talks in the coming days.

On her first visit to Washington since her surprise appointment in May, Mrs. Beckett said compromises were needed from both the leading industrial nations and developing countries to save the 5-year-old Doha round of trade negotiations conducted by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

She added that the biggest concessions may have to be brokered on the sidelines of the Group of Eight leaders summit, which starts Saturday in St. Petersburg.

“We are in danger of sleepwalking over a precipice in the Doha development round,” Mrs. Beckett said in a speech at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies yesterday.

“I don’t exaggerate when I say we’ve come to the crunch, to a window for agreement that is now to be measured in days at most,” she said.

Trade analysts say the WTO talks face a practical deadline of this summer if Congress is to have enough time to consider the accord under existing “fast-track” trade law, which forbids amendments and allows a single yes-or-no vote.

President Bush’s trade negotiating authority expires in mid-2007, meaning the outlines of the Doha deal must be nailed down soon, with details concluded by the end of the year and a congressional vote in early 2007.

Mrs. Beckett, the first woman to serve as Britain’s top diplomat, said the world’s poorest countries would be far less likely to cooperate on issues such as counterterrorism and drug trafficking if they remain barred from key Western markets in industry and agriculture.

Similar scare warnings have accompanied previous WTO trade rounds. But the failure by trade ministers from leading trade powers to make progress at a key meeting in Geneva earlier this month has sharpened fears the entire Doha round could be in jeopardy.

The United States and 25-nation European Union are resisting calls to curb massive subsidies to their own farmers, while emerging economic powers such as Brazil and India face demands to allow more foreign competition in their industrial and services sector.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz have issued urgent pleas for compromise in recent days.

On another issue, Mrs. Beckett said she will travel to Paris tomorrow for a meeting of the five U.N. Security Council permanent members and Germany to discuss the Iranian nuclear crisis.

She told reporters after her remarks that Iranian leaders have complained of “ambiguities” in the package of incentives they have been offered to freeze their suspect nuclear programs, but Mrs. Beckett said no one from Tehran had been specific about the questions.

Mrs. Beckett met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday and travels to Chicago today to meet with U.S. business leaders.

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