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US, European Union see new momentum for trade talks

US and European Union trade officials said they see new momentum for stalled global trade talks following a meeting at the White House yesterday.

EU President Jose Manuel Barroso and US President George W. Bush told their top negotiators to make the concessions necessary to break the impasse in the Doha Round of the WTO, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told reporters after the meeting with Bush and Barroso. „We came to Washington looking for a new impetus for the Doha negotiations, and I believe we found it,” Mandelson said. Negotiators need a breakthrough in the first three months of this year, he said after meetings with Bush and earlier with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.

The Doha Round talks, named for the city in Qatar where they began in 2001, broke down last July as the US resisted pledging further cuts in its farm payments without steep cuts in the farm tariffs of India, the EU and Japan. A trade agreement would inject $96 billion (€73.8 billion) into the world economy, the World Bank estimates. Trade officials from those countries are to meet later this month in Davos, Switzerland, in an attempt to restart the negotiations. Barroso told reporters that he saw „unequivocal signals, very clear signals from President Bush, that he wants a deal for Doha, that we should not miss this opportunity.” Bush, at a joint news conference with Barroso earlier in the day, said, „We talked about the importance for Europe and the United States to resolve any differences we have when it comes to the Doha round for trade, so that we can promote international trade.” Barroso, at that same news conference, said he and Bush instructed negotiators „to come up with a solution as soon as possible.” Still, the US and EU didn't announce any changes in their respective positions over farm tariffs and subsidies, which led to the breakdown last year.

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab didn't mention any goal of reaching a deal early in 2007. „Sooner is better, but the content will dictate over chronology,” Schwab told reporters at a news conference with Mandelson. „It will take more than two countries or two entities to reach this agreement. It will require multiple countries participating.” The EU said on Sunday it's willing to improve its offer by adding „substantially” to the 39% average cut in agriculture tariffs it submitted a year ago. „Europe is ready to add more than 10 percentage points and get within close reach of the average farm tariff cut demanded by developing countries, 51.5%,” the European commission said in a statement. In return, the EU wants the US to make „real cuts” to farm subsidies to levels near to those demanded by developing countries. This would mean a cut of about $8 billion from current ceilings of $23 billion, according to the commission, the 27-nation group's executive arm. (Bloomberg)