Obama watching Bush closely in WTO talks: aide

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wants a successful end to long-running world trade talks, but will closely review any deal reached by the Bush administration, an Obama adviser said on Wednesday.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) talks during a League of United Latin American Citizens conference in Washington, July 8, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“Sen. Obama believes we need to change our trade focus from the Bush years so there is a true focus on workers, jobs, farmers and on ensuring that we are lifting standards of living overseas,” Jason Furman, Obama economic adviser said in a statement in response to request by Reuters.

“That is the focus that as president he would bring to seeking completion of a successful Doha round,” Furman said.

Furman issued the remarks before a meeting later this month in Geneva that World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy has described as the “moment of truth” for the Doha round, which was launched nearly seven years ago.

“While (Obama) would be skeptical of any agreement done by the Bush administration -- especially in the last few months -- it would be premature to comment until there was an agreement and details to review,” Furman said.

Obama, who polls show is running ahead of Republican challenger John McCain, opposes free trade agreements that President George W. Bush’s administration has negotiated with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

He also has promised to renegotiate the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement that Congress approved in late 1993, the first year of former Democratic President Bill Clinton’s administration.

The first-term Illinois senator wants to reopen the pact to include enforceable labor and environmental provisions.

Thea Lee, policy director for the 10.5 million-member AFL-CIO labor federation, which has endorsed Obama, said her group worried Bush was rushing to reach a Doha deal that fails to include adequate safeguards for workers.

“Given these concerns, we are not anxious to see a hasty deal concluded this year,” Lee said.

Bush has made clear he wants a Doha agreement before he leaves office in January 2009 and has signaled willingness to make deep cuts in spending caps on U.S. trade-distorting farm subsidies as part of the package.

But U.S. negotiators say that still depends on major developing countries like India, China and Brazil agreeing to open their agriculture, services and manufacturing markets more than they have offered so far in the talks.


Lamy has called trade ministers to Geneva the week of July 20 for a last-ditch effort to finish the round this year.

“The coming weeks represent the moment of truth for the Doha round,” Lamy said last week. “To conclude a deal will require courage and some of you are wavering.”

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said she doubted this month’s meeting would produce a major breakthrough because trading partners know it will be up to the next president to get any agreement through Congress.

“Most countries seem aware of the perils involved in making any deal with a president who has no authority to bind the U.S. legally and is desperate to get any foreign policy win like announcing a WTO breakthrough,” Wallach said.

Cal Cohen, president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade business group, said he expected only modest progress this month, but was optimistic Obama or McCain would embrace a deal if the Bush administration could achieve one.

“A successful round would lead to increased exports across the spectrum from everything to services to manufacturing to agriculture. Whether it’s a Republican or Democrat in the White House, I cannot but believe such an outcome would have very strong support,” Cohen said.

Editing by Peter Cooney