"We've had a breakthrough in the Doha Round," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told attendees at the 2007 Commodity Classic. Her message was that the wheels of trade negotiation may turn slowly but they are continuing to turn. Talks for the Doha Development Round ground to a halt in July 2006, when companies stepped away from the negotiating table.
The effort, that Schwab likened to the movie "Ground Hog" day where the effort would start, then stop, then start again, she says those talks are gaining traction. Schwab discussed the efforts now as a series of private discussions with different World Trade Organization members and she says the effect now is that "negotiators are talking to each other, not at each other."
There has been talk that a new WTO agreement might be imminent, which Schwab downplayed during a post-speech media conference. "We are very close on a Doha agreement and there have been several meetings. I would not say an agreement is imminent" but adds that just 8 months ago she though an agreement would not be possible.
Schwab, who is headed for Europe this weekend for more talks, says plenty of work is ahead.
Meanwhile, work continues on bilateral free trade agreements with Peru, Columbia and Panama agreements underway. There's also work with Korea and Malaysia. A sticking point for Korea is the current consternation over beef imports into the country. Schwab told the crowd during her address that passage of a free trade agreement with Korea would not be possible without resolution of the beef issues.
"I think it would be very hard for Congress to approve a free trade agreement with Korea without a resolution of the beef issues," she notes.
A final point she discussed is trade promotion authority, which the Bush administration is working on getting renewed. "We need trade promotion authority to stay in the game. We will ultimately not be able to negotiate if the agreements can later be changed by Congress," she says. Trade promotion authority has been available for every president since 1970.