GENEVA (AP) — The European Union trade chief warned Tuesday that six years of global commerce negotiations probably will fail if negotiators cannot agree on the blueprint of a deal before the U.S. presidential campaign heats up next year.
Peter Mandelson said the clock is ticking on talks among the World Trade Organization's 151 member states to liberalize international commerce in agriculture, manufacturing and services — echoing the urgency sounded last week by the United States, Japan, China and others at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
The calls for quick progress come as the WTO makes a new push to resolve disagreements over agricultural trade, such as those over proposed cuts in the billions of dollars in farm subsidies paid to American farmers and the tariffs that shield European producers of beef, dairy and sugar from foreign competition.
Trade officials in Geneva say the talks have made no significant progress since restarting last week.
A successful outcome to the talks ''will become very unlikely'' if countries fail to make a breakthrough this autumn, Mandelson told the European Parliament's international trade committee in Brussels, Belgium.
''The U.S. presidential campaign will pick up speed, and the round will head for an indefinite deep freeze.''
The WTO already has missed numerous deadlines in the so-called Doha round of trade talks, which aims to add billions of dollars to the world economy and lift millions of people out of poverty. The talks, launched in Doha, Qatar's capital, already are three years behind schedule, largely because of wrangling between rich and poor countries over eliminating barriers to agricultural and manufacturing trade.
Mandelson was referring to a long-standing complaint from world leaders that the United States is too tied up in domestic politics to negotiate international treaties in election years.
A number of trade officials have expressed concern in recent weeks that U.S. politicians' attempts to appeal to different groups, like farmers and labor unions, could make it harder for the world's wealthiest country to offer concessions.
Trade officials say their efforts also have been clouded by the expiration in June of President George W. Bush's ''fast track'' authority to send Congress trade deals for an expedited vote, and a proposed U.S. farm bill that has passed the House of Representatives worth US$299 billion over five years and offering few changes in programs for major crops such as corn, cotton, rice, soybean and wheat.
''The farm bill does indeed offer no conceivable basis on which the United States could table a final offer, or any basis on which an eventual agreement could be reached'' in the Doha round, Mandelson told parliamentarians.
Major developing nations are demanding that the U.S. make real cuts in the trade-distorting subsidies it pays to American farmers, which totaled US$11 billion last year.
The Bush administration has offered to limit the payments to US$17 billion (euro12 billion) annually, allowing itself flexibility in the event that greater assistance to farmers is needed because of a decline in world agricultural prices. Under a WTO draft proposal released in July, the cap would have to be somewhere between US$13 billion and US$16.4 billion (euro9 billion and euro12 billion).
Critics of the subsidies say they unfairly deflate international prices, making it harder for poorer nations to develop their economies by selling agriculture products abroad.
Washington says its concessions must be compensated by agricultural markets being opened up in Europe and developing countries.
France rejected any accord that does not serve its national interests.
''If Europe gives up defending its agriculture ... if it refuses to act and is happy to give in when the U.S. Congress votes to continue with its subsidies, what is the point of having an agricultural policy?'' President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday at an agriculture show in the western city of Rennes.
The U.S. and the EU are both seeking greater opportunities for their manufacturing exporters, but the have met fierce resistance from emerging countries such as Argentina, Brazil, India and South Africa, which fear exposing their fledgling industries to competition from rich countries and China.
Mandelson urged negotiators meeting in Geneva to ''get down to specifics.''
Diplomats say that is what they have been doing, but at a level so technical and over a list of topics so long they have left untouched the disputes that have caused the most bitter battles among the U.S., the 27-nation EU and major developing countries such as Brazil and India.
The four trade powers — who failed at a June meeting in Germany to converge on major sticking points such as U.S. farm subsidy limits and industrial tariff cuts for poorer countries — were joined Monday in private talks at the WTO by Argentina, Australia, Canada and Japan.