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U.S. Warns “Imbalance” In Doha Talks Needs Fixing

The Obama administration said March 2 there would be no agreement in long-running world trade talks aimed at cutting rich country farm subsidies and promot ing global development until other countries make better offers to open their markets to U. S. goods.

The warning came in the first U. S. annual trade agenda report prepared since President Barack Obama took office.

The report reflected a shift in U. S. trade policy toward a greater emphasis on protecting workers’ rights and the environment, while also setting a high bar for a successful conclusion of the Doha round of world trade talks.

“It will be necessary to correct the imbalance in the current (Doha) negotiations in which the value of what the United States would be expected to give is well known and easily calculable, whereas the broad flexibilities available to others leaves unclear the value of new opportunities for our workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses,” the report said.

U. S. manufacturing, services and farm groups are deeply unhappy with other countries’ offers in the seven-year-old Doha trade talks and told Obama last week they did not believe negotiations could simply pick up where they left off in 2008.

The trade agenda report is more evidence there is unlikely to be a quick conclusion to the round in 2009, even though Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said countries came “within a millimetre of reaching a deal” last year and urged Obama to make finishing the talks a priority.

The new report notes the importance of trade to the U. S. economy and says Obama will use “all available tools” to expand exports. That could include seeking fast-track authority to negotiate new free trade agreements. But the White House will only take that step after “extensive consultations with Congress,” the report said.

Fast track allows the White House to negotiate trade agreements that it can submit to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote without amendments. Bush was unable to win renewal of the authority after it expired in mid-July 2007, compounding the difficulty he faced in persuading other countries to agree to a Doha round deal.

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