The top U.S. and European Union trade officials pledged Thursday to try to reach a deal in long-running world trade talks “as soon as possible,” but set no deadline for resolving tough remaining issues.
“Extraordinary times require extraordinary leadership,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton said in a joint statement, adding the United States and the EU must lead by example in the global crisis by resisting protectionism and keeping trade flowing.
The meeting came during Kirk’s first full day on the job, after the Senate voted 92-5 Wednesday to approve him as U.S. trade representative. Kirk and Ashton also had dinner Wednesday just hours after that vote.
“We agreed on the importance of achieving an ambitious and balanced outcome to the WTO Doha Development Agenda as soon as possible,” they said in the statement that also noted that the current economic turmoil had increased the temptation for countries to turn away from the rules-based trading system.
The Doha round was launched in November 2001 with the goal of helping poor countries prosper through trade. An agreement would require deep cuts in U.S. and European farm subsidies that developing countries say have too long distorted international trade.
The Obama administration has said Washington cannot agree to a Doha deal cutting U.S. farm subsidies and manufacturing tariffs until advanced developing countries make better offers to open their markets to U.S. goods.
Ashton, at a separate briefing for reporters, said the EU would like a Doha round agreement before the current European Commission’s term expires in October. She excused Kirk from agreeing to any such goal Thursday because the new U.S. administration was still evaluating its position.
“I’m very conscious in a first conversation timetables are hard to pin down. And that’s right and proper too. He needs to think about it,” Ashton said.
Kirk and Ashton also pledged in their statement to redouble efforts to resolve bilateral trade disputes. David O’Sullivan, the EU director general for trade, said the two sides were “quite close” to resolving an old dispute over EU barriers to beef from cattle raised with artificial growth hormones, a common practice in the United States.
The deal is expected to expand a quota for the United States to sell naturally produced beef in the EU.
Ashton also told reporters the European Commission would release next week the long-awaited results of an investigation into whether U.S. enforcement of a ban on Internet gambling violated World Trade Organization rules. European online gambling companies complain the U.S. Justice Department has unfairly gone after European firms while allowing U.S. companies to operate with impunity.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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