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Friday, Dec 06, 2019

'Bush not ready to give up on WTO talks'

US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer says President George W. Bush still thinks a world trade deal is possible despite a major setback last month and will continue pushing to get one.

world Updated: Aug 13, 2008 01:12 IST
Doug Palmer
Doug Palmer

President George W. Bush still thinks a world trade deal is possible despite a major setback last month and will continue pushing to get one, US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said on Tuesday.

"I was with President Bush when we received word that there was an impasse and his immediate response was 'it's not over yet. It's not over yet, we can still do it," Schafer told Reuters reporters and editors in an interview.

"I'm probably getting in trouble (for talking about Bush's comments in a private meeting), but that was his response and that was his charge," Schafer said.

Last month, efforts to reach a long-awaited breakthrough in the nearly 7-year-old Doha round of world trade talks ended in failure after nine days of intense talks in Geneva.

The meeting was seen as the last chance to get a final Doha deal before Bush leaves office in January 2009.

The immediate cause of the collapse was sharp disagreement between the United States and many developing countries led by India over a "special safeguard mechanism" to protect developing country farmers against a flood of imports.

The United States said India was demanding terms and conditions that would allow developing countries to hike tariffs above currently bound levels in response to normal trade growth, rather than a sudden surge.

In addition, many developing country farm exporters, such as Uruguay and Paraguay, objected to the safeguard protections that India and other developing countries wanted.

Even if that issue had been resolved, other potential deal breakers lurked on the horizon, including the demands of West African cotton-producing countries for deeper and faster cuts in the US cotton program than for other commodities.

Schafer, who did not attend the Geneva meeting, brushed aside the suggestion the United States prolonged discussions on the special safeguard mechanism to avoid dealing the politically sensitive issue of cotton.

"I've never heard that in our briefings," including the one for Bush just before the team went to Geneva, he said.

"Cotton wasn't excluded in the willingness of the United States to make concessions on subsidies for the opening of markets that I'm aware of," Schafer said.