April 28, 2011 / 2:35 PM / in 6 years

USTR's Kirk: Don't give up on Doha trade talks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Countries should give another push to finish global trade negotiations despite wide differences that have raised fears that the 10-year-old Doha round is dead, the top U.S. trade official said on Thursday.

“It is not the time to start assessing blame. I also don’t believe it’s the time to give up,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a speech ahead of a meeting of the World Trade Organization’s negotiations committee (TNC) on Friday.

WTO Director General Pascal Lamy warned last week of an “unbridgeable” gap in the negotiations on manufactured goods that threatens the overall Doha round of trade talks.

He said there were vast differences between rich nations like the United States and major developing countries like China, India and Brazil over the amount of tariff cuts that should apply to manufacturing sectors such as electronics, chemicals and industrial machinery.

The Doha round was launched in late 2001 with the goal of helping poor countries prosper through trade.

Since then, it has suffered many setbacks as countries have wrangled over the size of cuts for rich country farm subsidies and tariffs on both agricultural and manufactured goods.

Kirk acknowledged new negotiating texts and reports released last week had produced “a moment of sobriety in Geneva,” where the Doha round talks take place.

“But we think over the coming weeks there will be an opportunity for us, particularly after the TNC meeting tomorrow, to sit down with our partners and see if we can’t come up with a way forward,” Kirk said.

He said the United States was committed to the development goals of the talks and once again called upon China, India and Brazil to acknowledge their responsibility to make bigger market openings than they have proposed so far.

However, he offered no new ideas for advancing the talks.

Trade experts are urging world leaders to get more involved in bringing the Doha round to a successful conclusion.

But former U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, who worked for the George W. Bush administration, has called the Doha round “doomed” and urged countries to salvage whatever smaller agreements they can from the talks.

She and three other former U.S. trade representatives specifically urged President Barack Obama on Thursday to push for a WTO pact to cut fishing subsidies provided by the European Union, China, Brazil, Japan and others.

“Without committed global leadership to reduce ‘overfishing subsidies,’ we risk the real possibility that the oceans will become too depleted to fish, resulting in a catastrophic blow to the world economy and environment,” they said in a letter.

Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Anthony Boadle

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