World trade pact possible this year: Schwab


A new world trade pact is possible this year, but it is still too early to schedule a trade ministers' meeting to seal the deal, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said on Thursday. "A lot of progress is being made in Geneva . We aren't there yet in terms of a breakthrough," Schwab told reporters after a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But there could be a breakthrough "in the first quarter" based on a set of revised texts on agriculture and industrial goods that will be released in Geneva by late January or early February, Schwab said. "We're in a critical few months. We intend to conclude a good agreement if a good agreement is to be had," Schwab said.

It's still unclear whether enough additional progress can be made in the agriculture and industrial goods negotiations to hold a ministerial meeting at the end of March to conclude the deal, as has been discussed in Geneva , Schwab said. That will depend on whether countries can agree to negotiate based on the revised texts, and then work constructively to bridge remaining differences, she said. It would be a mistake to prematurely schedule a ministerial meeting, Schwab said. Schwab will discuss the status of the talks with other top ministers attending the annual World Economic Forum meeting next week in Davos , Switzerland . The Doha round of world trade talks was launched six years ago with the goal of helping reduce global poverty and spur economic development by tearing down barriers to trade.

During a panel discussion after Schwab's speech, former U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor said he doubted a Doha deal could be reached anytime soon and the United States had already spent enough time on the talks. "I would not spend 30 more seconds on Doha . It's just not happening this year," said Kantor, who served as USTR and commerce secretary under former President Bill Clinton.

The United States has been under pressure in the negotiations to accept deeper cuts in its agricultural subsidies and in its highest tariffs on farm and manufactured goods. "We know we need to do our share when it comes to tariff peaks and trade-distorting subsidies," Schwab said. "We also know there can be no successful Doha round, this year or in any other year, unless our developed and advanced developing country trading partners also make meaningful contributions," she said.

The United States is pushing Brazil , India and other advanced developing countries to make significant cuts in their agricultural and manufactured goods tariffs as part of the deal. "The time for playing games is over. We have a window of opportunity" to reach a deal this year, Schwab said.