Doha Deal Not Imminent, But Hope Exists

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Introducing U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, it was said that free trade is kind of like heaven. You want to get there, but not yet. In her comments to Commodity Classic attendees in Tampa, Fla., Schwab assured them that she wants to get there. And she's doing all she can to keep at bay the protectionist views that could stagnate the U.S. trade agenda.

She received a standing ovation from the over 1,000 growers in attendance at this year's annual meeting of the National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and National Wheat Growers Association. Maybe a surprise since Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns got applause from the off-the-cuff comment at the American Farm Bureau meeting saying he sometimes wishes he could tell the WTO to take a hike.

She compared the ongoing Doha trade round to the movie "Groundhog Day." Everything is starting and stopping, but she hopes that is changing.

Talks stalled last July, despite an October 2005 U.S. proposal meant to spur talks. U.S. negotiators walked away from the table last July and are prepared to do it again if world trading partners don't bring the desired level of market access to the table, she said.

She didn't deny that if more market access is offered, the United States is not ruling out digging deeper into subsidy cuts domestically.

Since last July, there have been several quiet "what if" conversations bilaterally between countries that are helping move talks in the right direction. Instead of people just pointing fingers at each other, they're action talking to each other, she said.

Many news reports have circulated this week indicating a Doha round deal is within days. Schwab was hesitant to put a timeline on completion, maybe because every time a deadline is announced, it then goes unmet.

However, she said a deal is "not imminent" but she is "cautiously optimistic" negotiators can reach an agreement in the weeks to months ahead, not years. She added that eight months ago she did not have the same optimism.

She reminded producers that the USDA farm bill proposal is not a new Doha offer and Congress will write the farm bill. However, she hopes lawmakers will embrace a safety net that does not distort the market.

She heads to Europe Saturday for consultations with head negotiators from India, Brazil and Europe.

TPA extension

Doha is dead without Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) extension, which expires July 1, 2007. Congress is toying with different labor and environmental issues tied to TPA extension. Schwab stated it was a conscious decision by the administration to not send up legislation asking for a TPA extension so Congress could address needed issues for support.

"The extension is imperative if our trade agenda is to move forward. If we're not moving forward, we're moving backward. It's imperative that TPA is in a useable form." Schwab said.

Other trade deals

Schwab is looking to close a deal on the South Korea bilateral trade agreement by the end of March and send it up to Congress before TPA expires. She said she's been clear to Korean negotiators that if the beef trade issue isn't resolved, it will be hard to find Congressional support for a Korean FTA.

USTR is also working with Congress to get final approval for Peru, Columbia and Panama bilateral agreements.

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