NUSA DUA, Jun 8 – US Trade Representative Ron Kirk held his first meetings with key players in global trade talks on Monday, amid mounting concerns over protectionist measures announced by the White House.
Kirk met World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Pascal Lamy and recently appointed Indian trade minister Anand Sharma on the sidelines of a gathering of 19 major farm exporting countries on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
The former Dallas mayor, who was appointed to the post by US President Barack Obama in March, also briefly met members of the Chinese delegation.
Kirk made no comment to reporters after the meetings.
Sharma said the talks were "positive" and both sides had reiterated their commitment to completing the WTO\’s stalled Doha Round of negotiations on a new global trade pact.
"There\’s a shared and expressed commitment to take the negotiations forward and to work together for the resumption of the negotiations… to see the successful conclusion of the Doha Round," Sharma told AFP.
Disagreements – primarily between India and the US over tariffs – caused the last series of negotiations between WTO ministers, in Geneva in July, to collapse, plunging the fate of the broader Doha Round into uncertainty.
Developing countries including China and India want the industrialised world to scrap agricultural export subsidies, while Western powers are seeking greater access for their products in emerging markets.
Sharma said it was time to "pick up the pieces from where they are and move forward."
"We are not looking at the difficulties, we are looking at the possibilities, to do our best and take this process to its culmination," he said.
"There are no obstacles which are insurmountable. We have to create an understanding and trust. There have to be adaptations and adjustments, that is what negotiations are meant for."
The Indian minister said he would go to Washington mid-June for follow-up talks.
Brazil\’s WTO ambassador, Roberto Azevedo, who sat in on the Kirk-Sharma meeting, said it was important for Washington and New Delhi to send a clear "political signal" that they are ready to iron out their differences.
"We have two new players, Ron Kirk and Anand Sharma, so it\’s good to have an opportunity to listen to them and what they bring to the table," Azevedo said.
The talks were taking place on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the Cairns Group of major farm exporters, which includes Australia, Brazil and Canada.
The group has called for a fresh start to the Doha Round and condemned rising signs of protectionism, including a new trade war between the United States and the European Union over dairy export subsidies.
The US reintroduced export subsidies for its dairy industry last month in response to similar moves by Brussels, angering competitive producers such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Washington\’s trading partners are also baulking at the "Buy American" plan included in US economic stimulus legislation which requires projects funded with stimulus money to use only US-made steel, iron and manufactured goods.
Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the global economic crisis was putting pressure on countries to protect their economies while at the same time underlining the need for greater trade liberalisation.
"Leaders should show their commitment," she told reporters.
"Everybody knows the United States and India are the most important players in terms of setting the tone and providing how far the (Doha) agreement can go.
"The new administrations on both sides are providing a fresh perspective in how they see this global issue can be solved."
The WTO talks, which started at the end of 2001 in the Qatari capital, aim to boost international commerce by removing trade barriers and subsidies.