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U.S. Trade Chief Wants To Accelerate Doha Talks

Top trade official warned against creeping protectionism in the U.S. and beyond, and pleaded for speedy progress in global trade talks in the coming weeks.

PARIS (AP) -- The U.S. government's top trade official warned Thursday against creeping protectionism in the United States and beyond, and pleaded for speedy progress in global trade talks in the coming weeks.

''We do not have the luxury of unlimited time,'' Trade Representative Susan Schwab told reporters at talks among world trade ministers in Paris. ''We are facing the most critical days we have faced since the Doha round began.''

She and her European Union counterpart, Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, urged a new meeting in the so-called Doha round of trade talks this month or next -- before the U.S. presidential election grows too intense and saps American momentum for a long-elusive global accord.

''The United States political calendar is against us,'' Mandelson said. ''Our options are running out.''

Both warned that soaring world food prices and the global economic downturn were spurring calls for more protectionism.

''There is a lot of concern that I have, that others this morning were voicing about evidence of protectionism'' in the United States and emerging economies, Schwab said.

Mandelson insisted that a global trade deal codifying lower tariffs and subsidies would help ease food price tensions.

''Trade has got to play its part in meeting the food crisis in the world,'' he said.

Not all Americans and Europeans agree with their trade chiefs.

U.S. lawmakers last month overruled a veto by President George W. Bush and passed a farm bill worth US$290 billion (euro187.5 billion) that maintains subsidies for American farmers. Many developing countries have slammed the bill, saying it hurts their economies.

France also has sought to retain farm subsidies, and France's trade minister, Anne-Marie Idrac, said at the meetings at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that she did not see a need for an urgent new round of talks.

The trade talks known as the Doha round have repeatedly stalled since their inception in Qatar's capital in 2001, largely because of wrangling over eliminating farm subsidies and tariffs in the rich world.

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