WTO urges U.S. to show leadership in Doha talks

GENEVA Wed Sep 29, 2010 8:02am EDT

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GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Trade Organization called on Wednesday on the United States -- criticized by many trade partners for a lack of interest in trade policy -- to show leadership in global commerce.

In a two-yearly review of U.S. trade policy, part of a regular survey of all 153 members, the global trade referee urged the United States to show leadership in the fight against protectionism by opening up further to trade and investment.

Many WTO members have blamed the near deadlock over the past two years in the Doha round to open up global trade on a lack of U.S. interest in trade policy, although in recent months some such critics say there are now signs of greater U.S. engagement.

"Pursuing liberalization ... could ... reaffirm the U.S. leadership role that has been a crucial element in advancing the objectives of the multilateral trading system since its inception," the WTO secretariat said in a report for the review.

More transparent trade and investment regimes would contribute to productivity -- a key ingredient in the stated U.S. objective of doubling exports, the WTO secretariat said.

Export promotion should be complemented by a continued reduction in restrictions on market access and other distortions.

These could involve bringing down outlying peak tariffs for some products, cutting farm support and removing barriers to trade and investment in services -- all proposed by America's trading partners in the last review in 2008, it said.

EMERGING CONTRIBUTION

In its own report for the review, the U.S. government repeated its view that successful negotiations required a bigger contribution from countries such as China, India and Brazil, saying it wanted a deal showing give and take between rich and emerging trading powers while helping developing countries.

A Doha agreement liberalizing trade in farm goods, industrial products and services would boost the world economy, support jobs, help poor countries and reinforce confidence in the international trading system, the U.S. report said.

"A weak agreement would not serve these interests and ultimately would weaken the WTO," it said.

The WTO secretariat said the United States, as one of the world's most open trading economies, had largely resisted protectionist pressures in the recession, with its average tariff remaining at 4.8 percent -- the same as in late 2007 when the downturn started.

But it pointed to a few moves curbing imports, such as President Barack Obama's imposition of safeguard duties on Chinese tyres and Buy America rules in the 2009 $787 billion stimulus package that are more restrictive than existing government procurement guidelines.

The number of anti-dumping measures -- duties on imports deemed to be priced unfairly -- totaled 246 in December 249, a tenth more than two years earlier, it noted.

Since the creation of the WTO in 1995, the United States has been involved in more trade disputes than any other member, both as complainant and respondent.

But despite U.S. support for the rules-based system and its emphasis on enforcing commitments, the WTO noted that Washington has failed to implement rulings for five years or more in three dispute cases that it lost.

The WTO said that farm support programmes as a share of farm production are only 7 percent, the third lowest percentage among rich countries grouped in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

But given the size of U.S. farming -- the United States is the world's biggest producer of soybeans, maize, beef, poultry and milk -- farm support is the third highest in the OECD in absolute terms at $23.3 billion and so can affect world markets.

Agriculture contributes less than 0.8 percent to U.S. GDP and 1.4 percent to employment, but represents 6 percent of total exports and is the main economic activity in some states.

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