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Doha Round trade talks collapse

Last night in Geneva, the G-6 Ministers met to try and reach an agreement for moving forward with Doha Round trade discussions, but failed to do so. Today, the talks collapsed, and officials say it could be months or years before they begin again.

"We took seriously the admonition of the leaders of the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg, but unfortunately the promises of flexibility and market access coming from St. Petersburg did not materialize in Geneva," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a statement today. "Unless we figure out how to move forward from here we will have missed a unique opportunity to help developing countries and to spur economic growth."

Schwab said the U.S. was prepared to negotiate, but the focus on loopholes at yesterday's meetings showed that a number of other countries were not willing to step up to the table.

" 'Doha Lite' has never been an option for the United States; it is still not an option," Schwab said. "There was no package on the table yesterday that we could have recommended to the President or to the United States Congress."

The EU and other countries blame the U.S. for the stalled talks, but U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns called Brazil and India "inflexible" when it comes to industrial imports, and accused the EU of refusing to open up its farm markets.

" 'Doha Lite' got a lot lighter in the past 30 days," Johanns said today. "All of a sudden we came to realize that not only was there going to be substantial protection and barriers in developed countries, but in these advanced developing countries that are world class competitors to everybody, that they were basically arguing that 95 to 98 percent of their ag market should be protected. That they would have the ability to choose when, how and if they would do business. And that was the proposal. Now again, if somebody can make a case to me that that somehow was market access that we could respond to, I’m all ears, but I didn't see it."

One of Johanns' major concerns is the world market for U.S. beef. " The current tariff for high quality beef in the EU is 80 percent. That blocks the market. There is no more effective trade distortion than that. To just simply block the market, to close the door," he said. "Under the proposal, the new tariff would be 61 percent. That is still a remarkable blocking of the market. It makes it impossible to compete. It makes it impossible to sell beef into that marketplace."

He said that the U.S. already had a very bold proposal on the table, and was willing to be flexible, but that other countries aren't offering the market access necessary for world trade. "Can anybody seriously argue, for example, that 160,000 tons of beef -- two percent of the marketplace -- is an increase in trade flow? Can anybody seriously argue that advanced developing countries literally arguing for 95 to 98 percent of their marketplace being protected in agriculture is going to result in an increase in trade flows? I think not."

Schwab and Johanns met with the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture last week. Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte later expressed his frustration with the lack of ambition shown by other countries. "The U.S. has proposed an ambitious and forthcoming proposal and no other country has introduced a proposal that even comes close to the U.S. proposal," he said. "We’ve been accused of being obstinate and solely blamed for the currently stalled status of the negotiations. I find it curious that the very same WTO member countries that are so quick to point fingers are so quiet when asked what action they will take to move things forward. The U.S. has taken a significant step forward but without movement from other WTO members, we will remain at a standstill."

Despite this weekend's difficulties, however, the U.S. is still hoping for a Doha Round agreement that will create market openings and bring new economic opportunities. "We feel strongly that we need to avoid the temptation in the coming weeks and months as we sort out where we go from here," Schwab said. "We feel strongly that we need to avoid the temptation of pulling anything off the table."

Johanns agrees. "I strongly feel that even though today truly represents a failure -- let's be blunt about it -- that this isn't a time to pull offers off the table, to talk about 'take it or leave it,' " he said. "It is very, very difficult for us today to sit here before you and recognize this is where we're at, but we're going to do everything we can to encourage this discussion to continue to occur. There's too much at stake not to."

Last night in Geneva, the G-6 Ministers met to try and reach an agreement for moving forward with Doha Round trade discussions, but failed to do so. Today, the talks collapsed, and officials say it could be months or years before they begin again.

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