US says fill in the gaps on Doha, don’t reopen deal

US says fill in the gaps on Doha, don’t reopen deal

New Delhi: The United States believes World Trade Organisation members must work hard to fill in the remaining gaps to clinch a Doha deal, not reopen what has been agreed so far, the top US trade official said on Friday.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk dismissed as misplaced widely voiced fears -- by Brazil and the European Union among others -- that Washington wanted to unravel what has been painfully negotiated over nearly eight years.

“I think a lot of this has been much ado about nothing," he told Reuters.

Kirk was speaking in New Delhi where India has invited key trade ministers to discuss how to finish the Doha round next year as urged by political leaders.

The ministers want to find a way to inject momentum into the faltering negotiations in Geneva on the Doha round, launched in late 2001 to help developing countries prosper by opening up world trade, rather than negotiate specific issues themselves.

Ministers agree that the basis for completing the talks, which will cut tariffs and subsidies in farm and industrial goods and open up services like banking and telecoms, are negotiating texts drafted in December after an abortive round of negotiations last year.

But Kirk said those texts were still full of blanks, where the WTO’s 153 members had not yet found common ground.

“Obviously we’ve got to put some meat on the bones in that case. It has never been our argument that we should start all over again or reopen them, but we have to have some idea of what those gaps and blanks are," he said.

Kirk said he was wary of stating that the deal could be clinched by 2010 as the talks have already missed many deadlines.

Understanding trade partners’ needs

But it was useful to set a stretch goal of 2010 if that prompted members to start work immediately on filling in the gaps and working together one-to-one to understand each other’s requirements to bring bargaining to a conclusion.

Some developing countries are suspicious of such bilateral contacts, fearing that deals could be cut behind their backs or that individual states could be strong-armed into an agreement.

But the United States says it cannot put its cards on the table until it understands how the big emerging countries like India, China and Brazil are going to use the exceptions to tariff cuts that developing countries will be entitled to.

Other countries respond that Barack Obama’s administration itself is not clear in expressing its aims in the talks and what it will take to close the deal. Trade, they say, is not the top priority for a White House more concerned with healthcare and pulling America out of the financial crisis.

But Obama pushed the administration’s trade strategy forward on Thursday when he nominated former trade policy adviser and novelist Michael Punke to the open job of US ambassador to the WTO, a key position in the Doha talks.