WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Negotiators are making slow progress in Doha round trade talks this month, but it’s too soon to know if they can cobble together an agreement, the top U.S. trade official said on Friday, putting much of the onus on emerging market nations to push the talks toward a conclusion.
“It really is too early to tell how it’s going to play out,” U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told Reuters in an interview. The central question, Schwab said, is whether “the handful of naysayers” will be “determined to kill the Doha round” by rejecting proposals on industrial trade.
Negotiators returned to Geneva earlier this month for the latest agriculture negotiations in the World Trade Organization talks, and industrial talks will resume soon.
Even the round’s supporters acknowledge the enormous challenges ahead in striking a balance among the WTO’s 150 members in cutting farm subsidies and tariffs in rich nations and reducing industrial barriers in developing countries.
Some hope the talks this month on agriculture can leverage a draft text put forward in July by Crawford Falconer, who heads WTO agriculture negotiations.
The Bush administration gives qualified support to Falconer’s plan, which includes specific ranges for some areas and only broad outlines for others, and a parallel proposal on industrial trade.
But the White House also insists that the drafts ask too much of the United States in cutting farm subsidies without demanding enough from emerging powers like India and Brazil, the round’s developing world leaders, in reducing their own barriers.
“The most ambitious scenarios for the emerging markets, either for agriculture or for (industrial trade) are not very ambitious at all,” Schwab said.
Another set of draft papers, reflecting any progress made in coming weeks, will come by mid-October, she said.
The negotiator also said that she expected to table a counterproposal on cotton subsidies, an issue that has pitted poor African producers against the United States.
Falconer’s paper includes an earlier proposal, supported by countries like Benin and Burkina Faso, that would reduce U.S. cotton subsidies by more than 80 percent, a bigger cut than other crops would see. That idea is deeply unpopular among U.S. cotton producers.
“In the case of cotton, there’s only one data point. There really needs to be some alternative scenarios,” Schwab said. But that proposal will only come after the overall framework for reducing farm subsidies has emerged, she said.