The top U.S. trade official expressed doubt Tuesday that negotiators could reach a deal this year in long-running world trade talks despite a goal set by President Barack Obama and other leaders.
But in remarks at the National Press Club, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk also said he did not believe countries should give up efforts to finish the eight-year-old round.
“We think it’s worth staying at the table. … I don’t believe we should give up. A lot of good work has been done,” Kirk said in response to a question.
Last year leaders of the Group of 20 rich and emerging countries set a goal of finishing the Doha round in 2010.
Asked if he thought that target was still achievable, Kirk said: “Well, considering that we have tried and failed three successive years, if past is prologue I don’t know if I would put too much stock in it.”
He added the outlook could change if “advanced developing economies such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa come to the table” with better offers.
The Doha round was launched in the capital city of Qatar in late 2001 with the goal of helping countries to prosper through trade. However, negotiators have missed every deadline set by themselves or political leaders for finishing the round.
WTO Director General Pascal Lamy estimates nearly 80 percent of the issues in the negotiations have been resolved.
But the slow progress in bridging the remaining differences has fueled suggestions the talks be paused for a while or scrapped altogether to focus on other trade areas.
Much of the impasse comes from Washington’s demand that major developing countries make better offers to open their farm, manufacturing and services markets in exchange for U.S. cuts in farm subsidies and politically sensitive tariffs.
Kirk said the U.S. Senate’s failure to confirm several of President Barack Obama’s trade nominees was a handicap for the United States in trade talks.
Those include Michael Punke, Obama’s choice to be ambassador to the WTO in Geneva, and Isi Siddiqui, tapped for the job of chief agricultural negotiator.
“Because of the unique wonders of our Senate parliamentary rules, we don’t have an ambassador in Geneva,” Kirk said, referring to a hold a Kentucky senator has on the nominations. “At some point this begins to strain our credibility … because the world believes (we) don’t care” about finishing the Doha round,” Kirk said.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Walsh)
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