BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU trade chief Peter Mandelson, preparing for talks in Washington on how to save world trade negotiations, urged Europe and the United States on Saturday to show political leadership to get a deal by April.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, leading a delegation to the U.S. capital, is to press the trade issue with President George W. Bush on Monday.
He will also urge Bush to do more on climate change, work more closely on securing energy supplies and the two will discuss Middle East peace efforts.
Mandelson is to meet U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, with whom he has swapped blame for July’s suspension of the World Trade Organization’s Doha round of talks to boost global trade. He said it was an opportunity to revive the process.
Mandelson said “quiet, constructive bilateral contacts” recently showed a possible outline of a final deal which must be reached in the coming months after which the round, already into its sixth year of talks, risks long delays.
“We have now entered a narrow window of opportunity lasting until Easter during which success for the world trade talks is possible,” Mandelson said in a statement. “We now need the added momentum of political leadership from the highest level. Europe and the U.S. have a shared responsibility to make this happen.”
U.S. officials say a breakthrough is unlikely on Monday.
But Brussels hopes it could allow for some progress when trade ministers from leading WTO states meet at the World Economic Forum from January 24 in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.
Bush’s “fast-track” powers to approve trade deals without Congress being able to pick them apart expire on June 30.
EU officials hope the now Democrat-controlled Congress might put aside party rivalries and extend those powers for a few months to help get a deal agreed and for all the subsequent small print to be completed, if there are signs one is possible.
Beyond 2007, the U.S presidential election in 2008 and a debate within the EU about further farm reform starting around then could mean the round is in the deep freeze for years.
The Doha round was launched in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States to help poor countries export more to richer ones and to boost the global economy. But stubborn differences have put the process years behind schedule.
Washington has balked at demands it must go further with cuts in farm subsidies, saying offers by Brussels, India and others to cut import tariffs on farm goods are far too modest.
An EU official said the bloc was still offering to cut farm import tariffs by an average of about 50 percent, its position last July, and wanted the United States to cut its ceiling for farm subsidies from $23 billion a year to $15 billion.
Both Washington and the EU say Brazil, India and other big developing economies must do more to open their markets.
In Washington, trade experts said Monday’s meeting was part of a puzzle for getting the Doha round back on track.
“All will become clearer around March and I don’t think it will become much clearer before then,” said Bill Reinsch, head of the National Foreign Trade Council, a U.S. business group.
On the Middle East, the two sides will discuss how the Quartet of peace brokers — the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations — can help the process, and ways to maintain the Gaza ceasefire and extend it to the West Bank.
Additional reporting by Doug Palmer in Washington