Brazil's Lula urges Obama to act on Doha round

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Monday to make completing the Doha round of world trade talks a priority, saying a lack of political will in Washington had undermined efforts to reach a deal.

“We were within a millimeter of reaching a deal. But at the last moment I would say the U.S. government didn’t have the political will for a deal because it was the end of (U.S. President George W.) Bush’s mandate,” Lula said in his weekly radio broadcast.

“But I think it’s important that Obama takes the initiative again so we can conclude the Doha round because it will be a huge help for poorer countries at this moment of crisis, especially those that have economies based on agriculture.”

As a major farm goods exporter, Brazil has played a key role in the World Trade Organization’s Doha round, trying to forge a common front with other developing nations.

Negotiations have advanced little since July, when a breakthrough deal was thwarted by a disagreement between the United States, India and China over details of a mechanism to protect developing countries from a surge in farm imports.

Lula also called on Obama, who takes office on Tuesday, to develop a new policy toward South America based on democracy and development and said he should give a “signal” to Cuba that the United States was willing to end its economic embargo against the communist country.

“There is no longer any scientific or political explanation to continue the blockade,” said Lula, who maintains friendly relations with both Washington and Havana. “It’s important that this is taken down so Cuba can have a normal life like all other countries and relations with all other countries.”

The incoming Obama administration has said it wants to lift travel restrictions on families wishing to visit relatives in Cuba, but will keep the four-decade-old embargo as leverage to promote change in the one-party state.

Reporting by Stuart Grudgings, Editing by Todd Benson and Eric Beech