Less than a year into her job, United States Trade Representative Susan C Schwab, finds herself in the hot seat. Not only does she have to negotiate her country’s interests, but at the same time ensure that other countries, normally wary of American intentions, come back to the negotiating table and revive the deadlocked Doha round of trade talks.
The emergence of India and China as economic powers in the last decade has ensured that these two Asian giants remain key players in resolving the impasse.
During her visit, Schwab said so in as many words, while admitting that it was no longer possible for the European Union and the US to set a global trade agenda on their own.
Schwab, who rarely has the time these days to spend more than a day in any country, actually ended up staying for four days in India.
The soft spoken Schwab comes from a foreign service family and grew up in Africa and Asia. She started out in the US administration as an agricultural trade negotiator in the USTR’s office, moving back to Asia to become a trade policy officer in the US Embassy in Tokyo. Subsequently, she worked as Motorola Inc.’s director of corporate business development and engaged in strategic planning and negotiation on behalf of the company in China.
She was confirmed as USTR by the US Senate on 8 June and is known to have president George W. Bush’s ear. For an advocate of ‘quiet diplomacy,’ it is not surprising that her counterparts elsewhere in the world take a more benign view of Schwab, a major departure from some of her predecessors. But, others see her approach as less forceful and thus tilting global talks toward Europe, sometimes also at the cost of America’s own interests.
“There is no comparison between Susan and Carla Hills (one of her predecessors) who was USTR during the Uruguay round. Schwab comes across as ambivalent, not someone trying to push the agenda (at the WTO.) Which is why many feel that WTO has become very European-centric with both the WTO director general Pascal Lamy and EU trade commission Peter Mandelson making the most noise,” says one negotiator from a developing country who didn’t want to be identified.