DAVOS MEET — 2007: Bush seeks to renew authority to fast track trade agreement

Davos, January 29:

George Bush will tomorrow exploit the weekend’s breakthrough in global trade talks when he announces that he wants an extra year to fast-track a deal covering agriculture, services and manufactured goods through Congress.

With Tony Blair now confident that a successful end to more than five years of tortuous negotiations is ‘now in sight’, the US president wants to extend his trade promotion authority under which any global agreement would be made binding in the US without Capitol Hill being able to amend a trade bill clause by clause.

Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), has said that progress in informal talks between 30 trade ministers in Davos on Saturday will allow him to resume full negotiations between the WTO’s 150 members in coming weeks.

He said he had ‘got the message’ that the momentum was there for him ‘to get back to full negotiating mode’ after the seven-month delay caused by the breakdown in the talks last July. “We have to be prepared to switch from flying in circles above the landing zone to making an approach. I can’t wait for too long.” Speaking in Davos, Blair said the revival of the Doha round was ‘wonderful news’ and he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ of a deal in the next few months.

He said there was now “more energy and drive, and a recognition of the consequences of failure. A trade deal would be a big boost to the multilateral system and help the world’s poor”.

US sources said the White House would be asking Congress to renew the trade promotion authority by 12 months when it expires at the end of June, but made it clear that the upbeat mood at the trade ministers’ meeting on Saturday did not mean a deal was inevitable.

Susan Schwab, US trade representative, has said she would cut Washington’s subsidies to American farmers to the $15 billion a year ceiling demanded by developing countries only if Brussels substantially improved its offer of access to the heavily protected EU market.

Indian commerce minister, Kamal Nath, also expressed caution about the prospects of a speedy deal, saying negotiations should be driven by the content of any proposals.

Peter Mandelson, the EU’s trade commissioner, said, “None of us will think that what is on the table is ideal. All of us will want to tug the blanket. Each of us will worry that our constituencies will think we’ve been poor negotiators. But then we will have to accept that the alternative to what’s on the table is not the perfect deal, but no deal at all.” Started in 2001 to calm an anxious world economy after the September 11 attacks and to ease poverty, the Doha round was considered all but dead when the US, the EU and the G20 developing countries clashed over farm protection last summer. Lamy called a halt to negotiations, saying ministers needed time to reflect.

G8 to feel heat

DAVOS: The British finance minister Gordon Brown is seeking to put fresh impetus behind debt relief for the wor-ld’s poorest states by pr-essing G8 partners to back the write-off of $3 billion owed by Liberia to its creditors. Brown met Liberia’s president and assured her that he would back her to free the country from debt burden. — The Guardian