(AFP) – Jul 30, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — This week's collapse of WTO talks suggests dim prospects for broadening global free trade with US President George Bush set to leave office and American support for such deals waning, analysts say.
With the presidential election only three months away, the prospects for making progress on the Doha Round that has staggered for seven years all but died Tuesday with the Geneva breakdown.
Experts said that the US would likely pursue bilateral trade deals rather than try to forge a pact with the 152-nation WTO, where agreements must be reached by consensus.
"The US would probably revert to bilateral agreements with people like (South) Korea and the Latin American countries, (and) this (collapse) would give new impetus to these efforts," said Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland.
"It's going to be a tough road with the Congress unless the president, whoever that may be, solves the trade problem with China," he told AFP.
"The reality is China is taking all the water in the pond and leaving everyone else thirsty."
In a letter to Bush a week ago, two Democratic senators warned that Schwab and her team were unauthorized to make binding commitments at the Geneva ministerial talks on behalf of the Congress.
Senators Russell Feingold and Robert Byrd wrote: "It is likely that in the future the fast-track process will be replaced altogether with a trade negotiation and approval mechanism that better reflects Congress's constitutional role regarding trade policy."
The Democratic-controlled Congress let expire a year ago the president's fast-track authority to negotiate trade agreements without interference from the legislature.
Major trade players spoke of a new world order created by the emerging powerhouses such as China, India and Brazil after nine days of World Trade Organization negotiations deadlocked over a farm tariff.
With the world's largest economy ailing, enthusiasm for free trade has been waning.
Whoever follows free-trade advocate Bush into the White House will face Democratic resistance, as seen in Congress's unwillingness to approve a bilateral trade pact with Colombia championed by Bush as essential for the Americas.
The Democratic-controlled Congress is widely expected to increase its majority in both houses in the November 4 elections, further complicating any future trade deals.
The next president who takes office in January will confront pressure from lawmakers listening to their constituents' complaints about the ballooning US trade deficit, particularly with China, blamed for the loss of thousands of jobs.
Both Republican contender John McCain and his Democratic rival Barack Obama honor the ideal of free trade, but early campaign rhetoric shows differences in the mode of support.
For example, McCain endorses the North American Free-Trade Agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada. Obama has taken several swipes at NAFTA, including the suggestion that it needs to be renegotiated.
Protectionist sentiment is feeding on an economic slowdown amid the worst housing crisis in decades, tight credit, soaring food and energy prices, and rising unemployment.
The powerful Teamsters union said it was glad the WTO talks failed.
"Once again, the Doha round of global trade discussions have collapsed -- a glaring sign that it is time to finally let the World Trade Organization negotiations officially end. It is time to replace the failed WTO model with a new and fair model of trade that benefits the majority of workers in the United States and across the globe," Teamsters president Jim Hoffa said in a statement.
"All workers have seen what these failed trade policies have done to our jobs, food safety, product safety, wages, the environment and the middle class -- and they have had enough," he added.
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