DAVOS MEET — 2007: US stays optimistic over trade negotiations

Geneva, January 30:

Top US trade official Susan Schwab said today there was a new sense of optimism on the stalled Doha round of trade negotiations following the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

“I think coming out of Davos a number of us emerged with a new a sense of optimism and a sense of momentum that had been sorely lacking since July,” Schwab said. “The focus of our discussions were how to turn this political will, this sense of urgency into reality. We know we have a lot of work to do.”

However, she stressed that key players in the talks such as the US, the EU and the G20 group of developing countries were still far from a consensus as to how this might be achieved.

Schwab said no side had yet made a proposal that was acceptable to all parties and could be seen as a ‘landing zone’ for a successful outcome. “In terms of a landing zone, I don’t think we know where a landing zone is, and if the G20 proposal or the US proposal or the EU proposal had been the landing zone, we would have figured that out last July,” she added.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has been upbeat on prospects of an imminent breakthrough, telling Financial Times last week that agreement on key numbers in agriculture and industrial goods could be reached within a month or so. But he has since come under fire from EU member states such as France, which deemed his working methods ‘unacceptable’.

Mandelson ‘circulated texts’ and made confidential information ‘public or semi-public’ at Davos, French agriculture minister Dominique Bussereau told a press conference on the sidelines of a meeting here of European agriculture ministers. Schwab would not be drawn on internal EU differences, saying only that every country or group of countries had to face its own political sensitivities and dynamics.

“Commissioner Mandelson has 27 constituencies he needs to listen to. Some are more powerful than others, some are more constructive than others. I will not second guess the internal EU politics that Peter Mandelson has to deal with, nor would I invite anyone to second guess what it’s like to work with 535 members of the US Congress,” she said.