Business not pushing trade deal -ex-EU trade chief

Wed Mar 2, 2011 10:46am EST

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By Jonathan Lynn

GENEVA, March 2 (Reuters) - Businesses are not working hard enough to get a new world trade agreement even though the so-called Doha deal is in their interest and is attainable, former EU trade chief Leon Brittan said on Wednesday.

Brittan, who is trade adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron, said he was optimistic a Doha deal could be done this year, as called for by world leaders, but failure to do so in 2011 would mean the trade pact would never be concluded. As European trade commissioner, Brittan played a key role in negotiations on the previous trade agreement, the Uruguay round completed in 1994, and in setting up the World Trade Organization.

Businesses, especially American ones, played a vital part in lobbying governments for the Uruguay deal, but this seemed not to be the case in the talks known as the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), Brittan, a former British cabinet minister, said.

"My impression is that the global business community is supportive of the DDA but they're not giving it the priority that they could, particularly in the United States," Brittan said in a speech at the WTO.

He said he was personally encouraging U.S. companies such as online retailer Amazon.com (AMZN.O), financial information group Bloomberg and banking group J.P. Morgan (JPM.N) to increase pressure on the U.S. government.

He also was talking to multinational corporations active in Britain to persuade them to lobby for a Doha deal at home and in other countries where they operate.

U.S. officials have argued in recent years that what is on the table in the Doha talks is not enough to spur businesses to lobby the U.S. Congress to ratify a deal, and the package needs to contain more business opportunities.

Brittan said one reason the talks were attracting less business interest was that the main obstacles to trade now are non-tariff barriers such as red tape, which are less visible than the high tariffs and duties that were the focus of the Uruguay round.

But what is on the table would produce the most far-reaching increases in market access of any global trade negotiation, he said. A deal would underpin world economic growth and help developed and developing countries, he added.

He also said agreement is close.

"It is safe to say that there is an agreement on about 80 or 90 percent of what would constitute the final deal," he said.

Although there was no legal reason why the decade-old negotiations could not continue beyond this year, it was clear that negotiators and politicians would not have the stomach to continue if they fail to reach a deal in 2011, he said.

"Not only I, but everyone I have spoken to in a position of responsibility in different main players in the world gets the feeling that that is the case as far as the Doha round and this year is concerned," he said.

(Editing by Robert Evans and Michael Roddy)

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