President Obama Urges Changes In Stalled World Trade Talks

By Brian Love and | June 28, 2010

U.S. President Barack Obama Sunday called for significant changes to the long-delayed Doha round of world trade talks, telling Group of 20 leaders that offers on the table were inadequate.

Obama, who spoke at a lunch with G20 leaders, emphasized that he remained committed to the World Trade Organization’s Doha round and was not trying to start it from scratch, according to sources who heard the remarks.

The United States and China, at diplomat level, have traded barbs over the Doha stalemate in recent days.

China’s ambassador to the WTO in Geneva accused the United States on Sunday of effectively asking for the Doha round to be started anew with its demands.

Obama told the private leaders’ lunch on Sunday that he “wants to build on the work that’s been done but that the current offers on the table are inadequate,” said one G20 source.

“The ultimate point is that the deal doesn’t do enough for the least developed countries. The big winners are the major emerging economies,” said the source. The reference was apparently to fast-growing countries such as China and India.

Obama said: “We need to think outside the box and not focus only on agriculture and non-agriculture markets but add other issues to the agenda like services,” the source said.

The WTO launched the Doha round in 2001 and it has been dogged ever since by differences among member countries. They have accused one another of not putting enough on the table, and of seeking too much in return for their own offers.

In another sign of the bleak prospects for a Doha deal any time soon, G20 leaders dropped their reference to 2010 as a target date for completion of the talks and set no new date. Several sources, however, said Obama’s comments at the lunch were well received by other leaders.

Obama has often talked of the need for more export-driven growth in the U.S. economy and is aiming to double U.S. exports in the next five years.

Many U.S. business leaders have been frustrated with what they view as a lack of emphasis by the Obama administration on the trade agenda and the president has signaled a new emphasis on the subject recently.

On Saturday, he announced he was making a new push to complete a free trade agreement with South Korea. Following a meeting last week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama announced U.S. support for Moscow’s bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Still, other G20 leaders remained cautious about the chances of reinvigorating Doha. “Where we are at the moment, we are stuck. We are not progressing,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. “If we can find a new dynamic, we can find a way to get these talks going.”

South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan told Reuters in an interview that Doha was “close to dead.”

“To keep talking about reviving it is one thing. To do something about it is quite another,” Gordhan said. “The serious danger that the world faces at the moment is that while Doha lies dormant on the one side, on the other side, they are either reaching new forms of free-trade agreements as regions, or bilaterally between economies and that complicates world trade.”

Leaders of the rich Group of Eight countries, who met in Canada on Saturday, said they would push forward on bilateral and regional trade talks while the WTO’s global deal remained unfinished.

(Additional reporting by John McCrank and Natuza Nery; Editing by David Storey)

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