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U. S. Sentiments Protectionist

The United States will not agree to a deal in world trade talks unless other countries make better offers to open their markets to U. S. farmers, manufacturers and service companies, two U. S. trade nominees said Oct. 4.

“I believe a good deal is doable. But we will not do a deal at any cost,” Michael Punke, President Barack Obama’s choice to be U. S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization, said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on his nomination.

“From my meetings and conversations with members (of Congress), with your staffs and with various stakeholder groups, I understand very clearly: No deal is better than a bad deal,” Punke said.

The Doha round of world trade talks was launched eight years ago with the goal of helping poor countries prosper through trade. World leaders recently set a goal of concluding a deal in the long-running talks next year.

But U. S. trade officials have said they need much more clarity about market openings that big developing countries like China, Brazil and India are willing to make in exchange for politically difficult cuts in U. S. farm subsidies and peak industrial tariffs.

The United States is being asked to make “significant” cuts in domestic support and export subsidies for farmers, said Islam “Isi” Siddiqui, nominee for chief U. S. agricultural negotiator.

“Therefore a final agreement on agriculture must provide commercially meaningful access to U. S. agricultural products into the markets of both developed and emerging economies,” Siddiqui said.

BAD DEAL WILL BE “DEAD ON ARRIVAL”

Senators on the committee, which has oversight over trade, took pains to repeat what they called a “mantra” for U. S. officials in the Doha talks.

“I urge you to remember that no deal is better than a bad deal,” Senator Max Baucus, who chairs the committee, told Punke.

“From my standpoint, the worst possible outcome in Doha would be to accept something in Geneva, bring it back to Congress, and have Congress reject it,” Punke said.

The United States must be able to show clear gains for its exporters from the deal before it is approved, he said. “Nothing has been agreed to yet. And nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to,” he said.

Senator Kent Conrad stressed that previous drafts of the Doha agreement would have hurt U. S. farmers, and told Punke he would need to negotiate aggressively.

“If it’s not a good deal, it’s going to be dead on arrival here,” Conrad warned.

Punke told senators that he understands the impact of trade on Americans while living in Montana the past six years.

“I’m friends with the farmers, ranchers, miners and entrepreneurs whose jobs depend on those exports. But I’ve also watched lumber mills close, and seen the impact of those job losses ripple through the heart of my community,” Punke said.

Senator Charles Grassley, the senior Republican on the committee, told Punke he needed to explain to trading partners the new “political reality” of how Americans feel about trade.

“I’m generally concerned about our trading partners not fully understanding prevailing sentiment on trade in the United States,” Grassley said.

“We’re dealing with a stronger protectionist sentiment, I’m sorry to say,” he added.

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