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WTO, US trade chiefs to meet in Washington

WASHINGTON, August 22 – World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy and top US trade negotiator Susan Schwab were to meet in Washington in an effort to restart the Doha Round of negotiations, a US official said.

Lamy’s visit to the US capital comes on the heels of his trip to India last week to discuss the possibility of restarting the Doha Round after the collapse of ministerial talks in Geneva over a US-India impasse on agricultural protection.

India said it would return to global trade talks if the US signals it believes the impasse can be overcome.

Brazil, Latin America’s powerhouse, has been making efforts in recent weeks to revive the WTO negotiations.

And World Bank president Robert Zoellick this week offered suggestions to break the deadlock over the proposed agricultural safeguard, saying it was critical for the world’s poor that the seven-year-old negotiations to lower trade barriers be successfully concluded.

Lamy, the WTO director general, and US Trade Representative Schwab were to have a private dinner late Thursday and hold further talks Friday morning, USTR spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel told AFP.

Schwab, in an interview in a trade newsletter published on the eve of her meeting with Lamy, said the United States supports holding talks with senior officials from a small number of countries in September to explore the possibility of restarting the Doha Round.

Such an effort would help preserve the progress achieved during a failed July ministerial meeting and prevent its further erosion, she told Inside US Trade.

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"We need to come to the table in September at the senior official level to test the seriousness of going forward, to bring forward new ideas to overcome some of the problems that we encountered in July that we were not able to overcome at that time, and quite frankly to stop the deterioration and the erosion of what was on the table in July," Schwab was quoted as saying.

Schwab expressed hope that the September meeting could "clear the way, conceivably, for another round of ministerial engagement" in the interview published Wednesday.

The US trade negotiator suggested talks could start among a "small group" of senior officials, and that the group did not necessarily have to be the same that was the core of the negotiations during the July ministerial.

That group was comprised of the US, the European Union, Brazil, India, China, Australia and Japan.

Schwab said she would be talking with the WTO director general this week about the senior officials meeting in September, which she said should involve "those countries in leadership roles."

The Geneva meeting collapsed in late July in an impasse between India and the US over a special safeguard mechanism that would allow nations to impose a special tariff on agricultural goods if imports surge or prices fall.

The US rejected Indian proposals that developing nations should be allowed to boost duties by an additional 25 percent on farm products if imports surged by 15 percent.

Washington insisted extra duties should be allowed only if imports rose by 40 percent.

In New Delhi last week, Lamy told reporters he was leaving with a sense of India’s "political will" to resume talks and he would conduct the "same exercise" in Washington to gauge the political mood.

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"I will play the role of a midwife if the negotiating parties want delivery of the baby," he said.

The Doha Round, launched in 2001 in the Qatari capital, has repeatedly missed deadlines set for its conclusion.

If the talks succeed, import tariffs worldwide could fall by half, or 150 billion dollars annually, out of which developing countries would get two-thirds of the benefits, Lamy said.

If they fail, US farm-trade distorting subsidies could hit a massive 48 billion dollars a year from a 14.5-billion-dollar cap Washington had offered, he warned.

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