INTERVIEW: U.S. leadership needed on Doha, climate change - EU

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. action is needed in coming months to help propel world trade talks and climate change negotiations to a successful conclusion, a European Union official said on Monday.

“I think now is the time to move forward” in the Doha round of world trade talks, John Bruton, the EU’s ambassador to the United States told Reuters in an interview ahead of the Group of 20 leaders meeting this week in Pittsburgh. “We’ve reached the stage where we need to get down to the details.”

The Doha round was launched nearly eight years ago with the goal of helping poor countries prosper through trade.

But negotiators have missed deadline after deadline as they fought over over the details of cutting industrial and agricultural tariffs and farm subsidies.

A new working paper from the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated the boost to global economic growth from a successful Doha agreement in the range of $300 billion to $700 billion annually and said it would be well balanced between developed and developing countries.

After more than a year of inaction, a recent meeting of trade ministers in New Delhi has raised hopes of progress in the long-running trade round. G20 leaders are also expected to discuss the round when they meet on Thursday and Friday.

President Barack Obama should seize the moment by pushing the Senate to quickly approve his nominees for two key slots in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, including the job of chief WTO negotiator in Geneva, said Bruton, who was prime minister of Ireland from 1994 to 1997.

The U.S. team also needs “clearer instructions to engage in details” of the Doha round talks, he said.

But “it would not be correct to say that the U.S. is the main obstacle” to an agreement, Bruton said, noting that India and some other emerging economies “are not as forthcoming as they ought to be” in terms of offering new market openings.

As countries attempt to relaunch global economic growth, now is the time for intense sector-by-sector talks that will help the White House identify enough new export opportunities to sell a Doha deal in Congress, Bruton said.

Bruton, who is nearing the end of his term in Washington, said he has been concerned by a rise in protectionist sentiment in the United States over the past several years.

But as the United States transforms itself into a country that saves more and consumes less, exports will be key to economic growth, Bruton said.

“The U.S., to my mind, has more of an interest now in opening up export markets, more of an interest now in freer trade than it had two years ago. The challenge is to convey that to the electorate,” he said.


Meanwhile, the outgoing EU ambassador expressed frustration the Senate still has not acted on climate change legislation, despite a deadline that has been looming for years for countries to reach a new treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions this December in Copenhagen.

“If you’ve brought people from around the world at great expense, at great expenditure of greenhouse gases and they sit there for two weeks and have to go home without agreeing ... that’s going to send a very negative signal to businesses that were hoping to invest in green technologies,” Bruton said.

Those remarks came just hours after European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned the climate change negotiations were “dangerously close to deadlock.”

“The reality is that negotiations are not going fast enough. And that is why, worryingly, some people are already speaking about plan B. And my suggestion is, let’s concentrate on plan A,” Barroso told reporters after a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

While Obama has hoped to get climate change legislation through Congress this year, work on the massive and controversial bill has been put on the back burner while lawmakers debate healthcare reform.

Congress needs to “recognize it is important to deal with more than one issue at a time,” Bruton said, adding he felt the need to be vocal on the issue because of “many forces in Washington working in favor of inertia on climate change.”

(Additional reporting by Walter Brandimarte in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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