U.S., EU Officials Look Forward To Next Week's Key WTO Meetings

Obstacles remain, but Bush says he's committed to successful round in Geneva.

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - The European Union and the United States recommitted themselves Wednesday to getting long-stalled world trade talks back on track, but their summit did not overcome lingering obstacles before next week's crucial round in Geneva.

President Bush discussed the issue in his meetings with senior EU officials, but officials said the talks did not give a significant boost to efforts to forge a far-reaching deal this summer.

The 25-nation EU has been pressing Washington to offer more concessions, especially in cutting domestic support to farmers, before the next round of World Trade Organization talks in Geneva on June 27-28.

Both the EU and the United States have been criticized for not doing enough to open their markets to farm products, while the two trade giants want major developing countries such as Brazil and India to liberalize their industrial and services sectors.

Bush told reporters at the summit's close that the trade pact issue ''was a big subject. And it's a tough subject because we're trying to make difficult adjustments to our own internal policy in order to ... reach an agreement that's fair for all of us.''

''But the good news is that we were very frank in our discussions. I mean, the Europeans have problems with the U.S. position. We have problems with the European position. We both have problems with the G-20 position. But the point is we're committed to a successful round,'' Bush said.

''My view is that we can't let this round fail. A failed WTO round would be missed opportunity, particularly to help people who are impoverished. ... The best way to help lift people out of poverty is trade,'' he added.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso agreed.

''After the good exchange of views we had today during this summit, I'm convinced _ I'm really convinced that it's possible to have a successful outcome,'' Barroso said. ''And it's crucially important from a trade point of view, from a global economic point of view, but also from a development point of view.''

A summit-ending declaration said that the EU and the United States were committed to ''reaching an ambitious conclusion'' to the current round of talks, which have already missed crucial deadlines and are far behind schedule. It offered no specifics.

''These negotiations are at a critical phase and we call on all WTO members to demonstrate the political will and courage necessary to achieve an ambitious and balanced agreement that will help strengthen global economic growth, improve living standards and alleviate poverty,'' it said.

The international relief agency Oxfam said it was ''very pessimistic about this WTO round being successfully resolved because the EU and the U.S. are sticking to their protectionist positions on agriculture while asking poor countries to open their services and manufacturing markets.''

Unless a blueprint is worked out at this summer, the whole process may have to be set aside until after U.S. presidential elections in 2008 because Bush's fast-track authority to strike trade deals expires next year, observers warn.

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