U.S. Defends Doha Trade Strategy after Zoellick Barbs

President Barack Obama’s administration on Tuesday fired back at World Bank President Robert Zoellick’s criticism that it has not done enough to bring the nearly decade-old Doha round of world trade talks to a successful close.

“Our goal has been not just any deal — but a good deal,” Michael Punke, U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization said in remarks in Geneva made available here.

“Frankly, if Doha could be completed by virtue of throwing a pile of concessions on the table, we would have had a deal many, many years ago,” Punke said.

Zoellick, who was U.S. Trade Representative when the Doha round was launched in 2001. This week he accused the United States and other WTO members of “dumbing down Doha” by aiming for a small package of agreements instead of the big deal in agriculture, services and manufacturing envisioned 10 years ago.

He called for “a turnaround” in the talks and encouraged the United States to lead the way by offering difficult concessions like eliminating the U.S. tariff on ethanol, making deeper cuts in domestic farm subsidies, allowing more foreign software engineers to enter the United States and agreeing to change its anti-dumping laws.

Zoellick, who was in Geneva for a meeting at the WTO, told reporters his record of negotiating and winning congressional approval of a series of free trade agreements during President George W. Bush’s administration gave him authority to offer advice.

He derided the tone of the Doha talks, which he said had become increasingly “defeatist” when countries should be redoubling their efforts to reach a wide-ranging deal that would give the global economy a much-needed boost.

Punke said over the past two and a half years, the Obama administration “has played the leading role in seeking an ambitious outcome in Doha. He said that included initiatives to find creative solutions within the confines of the framework for the talks decided by Zoellick and others who started the negotiations in late 2001.

“In particular, we have insisted that a Doha agreement must reflect the realities of the global economy in which we live,” Punke said, referring to the United States’ insistence that major emerging economies like China, India and Brazil contribute more to a final Doha deal.

“The United States, as always, stands ready. Over the upcoming weeks and months, we will be at the forefront of determining whether any variant of the current Doha framework can result in a successful outcome,” he said.

Zoellick was USTR from 2001 to 2005 before becoming Deputy U.S. Secretary of State and eventually World Bank president.

He failed to close the Doha round by its initial deadline of January 2005 and his two Republican successors, Rob Portman and Susan Schwab, did no better during their tenures.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Christopher Wilson)