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U.S., EU trade officials optimistic on global trade accord

United States and European Union (EU) trade officials report progress in efforts to revive stalled talks toward a new global trade liberalization accord.

Multilateral talks on the accord, being negotiated under World Trade Organization (WTO) auspices, had been put on hold since the talks collapsed in July 2006.

"We are clearly making progress," said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab following a January 8 meeting with her EU counterpart, Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, in Washington.

The WTO negotiations known as the Doha Development Round were suspended after six major entities, including the United States, the EU, Brazil and India, failed to reach agreement. Since then, major trading nations have been maneuvering to get the talks revived.

Mandelson said that "there is fresh hope for the Doha Round and we now have to build on that work."

Schwab told reporters that a convergence of U.S. and EU positions constitutes a "welcome change" in the discussions between the two trading partners. The two sides have differed mostly over farm subsidies.

Schwab said that the talks were "extremely useful…in terms of sensitivities and possible areas of convergence."

But she cautioned that any potential deal between the United States and the EU on agricultural issues would not guarantee a successful conclusion of the Doha round without other countries making concessions to open up their markets to foreign goods. She said that she had a "good" meeting with Brazil's foreign minister in the first week of January and will meet Japanese officials the week of January 8.

Mandelson said that his meetings with President George W. Bush and Democratic congressional leaders gave him confidence that pushing the WTO negotiations forward is possible within a narrow time frame, which he defined as the first quarter of 2007, and that Democrats would support an ambitious Doha deal.

He said that U.S. and EU leaders share a sense of urgency stemming from the expiration of the president's trade promotion authority (TPA) this July and in Europe by electoral politics.

TPA, also known as fast-track authority, gives the president power to submit trade deals to the Senate for an up-or-down vote without any amendments.

Schwab cautioned, however, that time pressure would not suffice to bring about a Doha deal.

"Nobody is going to reach an agreement on the basis of an artificial deadline if the content isn't there that is substantively and politically viable," she said.

Earlier in the day, Bush and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso encouraged their trade officials to resolve differences that have prevented a successful Doha agreement.

"We talked about the importance for Europe and the United States to resolve any differences we have when it comes to the Doha Round," Bush told reporters after meeting with Barroso in Washington.

United States and European Union (EU) trade officials report progress in efforts to revive stalled talks toward a new global trade liberalization accord.

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