U.S. Business Lobbyists Launch WTO Offensive

April 4, 2008

Business lobbyists from the United States will descend on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva next week to push for favorable terms in a new trade deal, a source familiar with the visits said on Friday.

The visits by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the American Business Coalition for Doha (ABCDoha) and the Coalition of Services Industries (CSI) are a sign that the long-running Doha round is approaching its moment of truth.

A memorandum from CSI President Bob Vastine, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, shows the United States believes it is now making progress in talks on the crucial services sector with Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Egypt and Turkey, but still faces difficulties with China, India and Southeast Asian nations.

The Washington-based CSI, which hosts the Global Services Coalition, will be joined next week by services representatives from Canada and European countries.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said on Thursday that ministers were likely to meet by the end of May to hammer out an outline deal on the Doha round, launched in late 2001.

That meeting, first proposed for late March or early April, has been delayed by negotiations on technical aspects of the agriculture talks.

Ministers meeting in Geneva would aim to agree on politically sensitive headline figures for tariff and subsidy cuts in the core areas of agriculture and industrial goods, and major exceptions to them.


But rich and poor countries including the United States, the European Union and India, which are interested in services such as post and courier delivery, banking and telecoms are also insisting that the ministerial meeting include a “signalling conference” where countries can make known their intentions on services liberalisation.

The United States had bilateral meetings on services with 11 key developing countries last month, amid concern that services were being neglected as negotiators focused on agriculture and industry, Vastine’s memo said.

“The U.S. is now in the process of continuing the ‘signalling process’ through follow-up calls, capital visits and videconferences with officials of the 11 countries to attempt to identify where additional improvements might be made,” it said.

A source said the service businesses had made it clear to developing countries that they would withhold their support — crucial for getting congressional backing in Washington for an overall Doha deal — unless they saw progress in the services negotiations.

The willingness of some developing countries to liberalise services depends both on the outcome of the agriculture and industry talks, and on U.S. readiness to allow in more temporary workers from developing countries — the central demand of poor nations in the services talk.

Vastine’s memo called on services sector businesses to push for liberalisation under the Doha round via their own contacts in emerging markets. He said the most important of these are China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand.

“CSI members with operations in any of those countries are urged to make the case through their government contacts as to how that country will gain from services liberalisation and from a successful conclusion to the Doha Round,” he said.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

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