Top trade representatives from "the group of six" gathered in Delhi today to formally recommence trade negotiations that stalled last July after failure to reach a consensus on two issues: reducing farm subsidies in the U.S. and E.U. and opening access to markets for services and manufactured goods in India and Brazil.
Named for the city in Qatar where the first meeting took place in 2001, the so-called "Doha round" was conceived by the World Trade Organization with the goal of breaking down trade barriers between developing and wealthy economies. Despite pressure from Democrats in Congress not to budge on farm subsidies, at the end of the day the U.S. agreed to "drastically reduce our trade-distorting agriculture subsidies" in order to gain broader access to new markets. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab said the move was motivated by a desire to reach an outcome before "Doha fatigue" set in.
The meeting concluded with a consensus among the six participating nations to aim to finish the round by year's end. The Doha agreement is a top trade priority for the Bush adminstration, which is seeking an extension of the President's trade promotion authority that expires in June. That authority enables the president to negotiate without Congressional involvement.
Still, after so many delays few hold hope that this latest round will yield any significant breakthroughs. The current climate, reports Carl Mortished of The Times, is better suited to bilateral "sweetheart deals" than a Doha-style multilateral trade agreement. "Bilateral deals suit almost everybody because each side can carve out a microworld of trade in which the parties can reach agreement without rocking too many boats," says Mortished, pointing to recent free trade agreements between the U.S. and Peru, Colombia, Panama, and South Korea (our largest FTA in 15 years).
U.S. agricultural groups may take issue with the "sweetheart" part, at least when it comes South Korea. In order to keep the pact in play, the U.S. conceded this week to South Korea's refusal to further opening its rice markets to U.S. farmers. South Korea also continues to oppose opening its beef market to American livestock, which closed after the mad cow disease outbreak in 2003.
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What do you think? Is there still hope for the Doha Round? Have U.S. negotiators conceded too much in their agreement with South Korea? Does excluding rice set a bad precedent for future FTAs?
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