Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) - “We’re not negotiating with a gun to anyone’s head – that’s not the way the WTO works,” says Michael Punke, the new US ambassador to the World Trade Organization. “What we’re hoping is they will step up and take up their leadership role,” he says, referring to India, China and Brazil. “At the end of day: we have to ask, are the advanced developing economies ready to accept the responsibility and leadership” that goes with their new roles?
The ambassador lost no time Monday morning, during a media breakfast for the new man in Geneva, making it clear that he is keen to start negotiating and to see the Doha Round of trade talks get back on track.
Punke insists there is strong support in the US “to negotiate a Doha outcome that is balanced and ambitious.”
Balanced, in the sense of advanced developing economies taking stronger roles.
Ambitious, in the sense of the Doha Round succeeding without the “arbitrary deadlines or big bang events [that] haven’t worked” in the past, the kind of events where top-level ministers show up and work intensely and everyone hopes the outcome will be a great leap forward.
He believes Geneva has focused too much on these. He is adament that “there aren’t any shortcuts but sitting down, day in and day out” to get through the issues that remain. “The only way to improve that balance is to engage in negotiation.” The US, he says “wants to focus on key sectors in priority markets – the advanced developing economies.”
He calls it ironic “to talk about, for our starting point, US concessions. Two-thirds of tariffs collected by the advanced developing economies are paid by other developing economies. If we’re going to have an outcome that is fair to developing economies it has to involve access to advanced developing economies.”
The negotiations must be multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral, says Punke. “The common denominator is negotiating.” And his counterparts need to be able to do this: “I need counterparts that are ready and empowered to negotiate,” particularly in bilateral talks with India, China and Brazil, he notes.
“I’ve been told by some of my counterparts that they don’t have the power to negotiate” or that their power is limited. “I’m here and I’m ready to negotiate,” he insists.
He dismisses criticism that the US has been unclear about what it wants.
“I find it very irritating to hear that our counterparts don’t know what the US wants: the US has been very clear about exactly what it wants. I don’t think there’s really any mystery about it among our counterparts.” He mentioned a number of specific areas that interest the US, from chemical and electrical equipmet to forest products. In agriculture “we want to ensure that the flexibility that has been discussed doesn’t create enormous loopholes.” In global services trade, “that the advanced developing economies are not free riders. Sectors like computer services, express delivery.” The US wants to know if it will have access to China’s cotton. “If so, that creates a different situation.”
A key change, he argues, will be “the need to go beyond a monolithic notion of the developing world to recognize complexity.” China is very different from Chad, and this needs to be clearly recognized in WTO talks.
Background on Ambassador Punke, GenevaLunch