US ready to talk on trade reforms

Original Publication Date: 
3 August, 2006

THE US has signalled it wants to "unlock" the stalled Doha trade talks at an Australian-sponsored meeting in Cairns next month. Australia is using its leadership of an 18-member agricultural nation group to restart the free trade talks that failed in Geneva last week.

The US's chief trade negotiator, Susan Schwab, and agriculture secretary, Mike Johanns, are joining World Trade Organisation director-general Pascal Lamy and a European Union representative at the meeting.

A spokesman for Mr Johanns said yesterday the US negotiators were willing to "travel to meet with officials of the Cairns group which has always been a productive group historically".

"We need to unlock the potential here and get a balanced agreement," the spokesman said.

The US is pushing for greater market access in the agreement and the Bush administration is also committed to wide-ranging reform of its agricultural subsidies, the spokesman said.

"We remain ready to negotiate but we don't want to just negotiate with ourselves," he said.

The EU's trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, has said he wants the world's trading blocs to return to the negotiating table.

Trade Minister Mark Vaile and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday they thought more free trade agreements with Asia were likely if the Doha round did fail.

Mr Downer said in Tokyo that he thought the Japanese would be keen to settle bilateral agreements if Doha failed.

Mr Vaile said it was too early for John Howard to contact international leaders in an effort to re-establish the Doha round of WTO talks.

"There's still quite a bit of detailed work ... that needs to be done before we get to that stage but certainly there may be a role in the future for leaders to communicate with each other," Mr Vaile said.

The Deputy Prime Minister said leaders were not needed in the free trade talks until it was time to negotiate the final points - when diplomacy was crucial.

"We're still dealing with getting agreement on modalities, the formula for tariff cuts if you like, before actually negotiating the numbers that go in the boxes," he said. "Leaders don't negotiate on that level."

Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, who met Mr Vaile in Adelaide to discuss bilateral free trade agreements yesterday, said the involvement of country leaders would further stall talks.