APEC Members Want to Salvage WTO Talks, Says U.S. Trade Rep

By | May 20, 2011

Asia Pacific trade ministers agreed Thursday not to give up on ailing world trade talks but to work over the next seven months on the best way to “salvage” a deal, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said.

“While it was not a joyful discussion, there was a sense that we had a much-needed reality check,” Kirk told Reuters in an interview after a day of meetings with trade ministers from the 21 other members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

“There was an equal belief that none of us want to walk away from the table and give up,” Kirk said.

Still, earlier Thursday, Kirk threw out just that possibility to generate discussion on how to revive the long-running Doha round of talks after the latest in a series of setbacks over the past decade.

“To launch today’s discussion, I see three possible paths: keep doing what we have been doing, give up or start thinking of something different that will lead us in a better direction,” Kirk said at the start of meeting.

“In my view, without abandoning our commitment to the success of the round, we need to begin a hard-nosed discussion of what can be done. We need to explore what next steps we can take to find a more productive path — and, if we find that path, to take it as quickly as possible,” Kirk said.

Kirk told Reuters what he heard from trade ministers during the Thursday discussion was that “what we need to now do is take a breath, examine what we’ve done, what’s salvageable.”

“Not just what is salvageable in the sense of let’s take just anything and declare victory. But what have we done that we can build upon … to produce an agreement that we all are still committed to,” Kirk said.

That work would take place between now and December, when the World Trade Organization holds the next ministerial meeting of its 153 members, he said.

Kirk’s grim assessment of the round followed WTO Director General Pascal Lamy’s recent declaration that he saw a currently “unbridgeable gap” between the United States and key developing countries like China, India and Brazil over how far to cut tariffs on manufactured goods.

China, the world’s second largest economy behind the United States, is an APEC member. India and Brazil are not.

After almost no movement in the talks since a collapse in mid-2008, negotiators started 2011 with renewed energy and hopes of finishing by the end of the year. “That optimism has not been borne out,” Kirk said.

Many longtime observers of the round have concluded it may be impossible to finish the negotiations covering trade in manufactured goods, services and agriculture as originally envisioned a decade ago.

Former U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab recently wrote that WTO members should recognize the talks are dead and salvage what smaller agreements they can in areas like trade facilitation and environmental goods and services.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Todd Eastham)

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