- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Bush administration’s top trade officials will push for a breakthrough in World Trade Organization talks starting tomorrow, though continuing disagreements with Europe over farm policies threaten to mire the negotiations.

The talks, which have missed a series of deadlines, are at a critical juncture and running out of time before political considerations in the United States make an agreement unlikely.

“I would even go so far as to say that this is a make-or-break stage for us,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who will join U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and trade ministers from about 60 other countries in Geneva starting tomorrow.

Mr. Johanns, Miss Schwab and U.S. lawmakers yesterday reiterated that other countries must open their markets to U.S. farm goods before the White House and Congress will pare back agriculture subsidies.

The Bush administration in October offered to draw down farm payments, a key demand of trade partners, in return for market openings. But the 25-nation European Union and some developing countries have demanded further U.S. concessions.

“The U.S. will have to give more if it wants to get more,” EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said last week.

That is a non-starter in Congress, which would have to approve a final deal.

“There is no support in the Congress for further concessions on our part,” said Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

U.S. officials have noted that European farm payments outstrip those in the United States.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported last week that subsidies last year reached $133.8 billion for the European Union, $47.4 billion for Japan and $42.7 billion for the United States.

The European Union has complained that the U.S. proposal would make only minimal cuts in American subsidies.

The bloc, meanwhile, has pushed World Trade Organization (WTO) members to commit to lowering trade barriers for European manufacturers, banks, insurers and other service providers in return for European compromises on agriculture.

Miss Schwab yesterday said the Bush administration is committed to reaching a breakthrough on farm and industrial trade this week, and striking a broader framework that includes services by the end of July.

She faces a practical deadline of this summer to strike a broad deal among the WTO’s 149 members if Congress is to consider the package under existing trade promotion authority.

The authority allows the president to negotiate and submit trade deals to Congress for a yes-or-no vote, without amendment. It expires in the middle of next year, meaning the broad framework would have to be in place this summer, details finalized by December and Congress notified of the deal by early next year.

Lawmakers yesterday said trade promotion authority could be extended, though the latest measure passed the House by a single vote and anti-free-trade sentiment has grown in Congress.

The current round of WTO talks, called the Doha round for the Qatari capital where they began in 2001, originally were scheduled to conclude by January 2005. Goals include reducing trade barriers and helping poor countries become more prosperous.

The so-called Uruguay round of negotiations, which established the WTO, lasted 7 years. The final deal, settled in 1994, took almost twice as long to achieve as originally planned.

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