Zoellick Criticizes Obama’s ‘Missed Opportunity’ on Trade Talks

World Bank President Robert Zoellick criticized President Barack Obama’s administration for failing to provide leadership in the Doha round of trade talks and adopting a defensive stance that helped stall discussions.

Speaking at the World Trade Organization in Geneva yesterday, Zoellick said trade negotiators from “key” rich and developing economies fell into “tactical ploys,” wasting the chance of an ambitious agreement. He questioned what the U.S. gained with its negotiating tactics, including resistance to cuts in farm subsidies which are now bound to happen because of efforts to narrow the budget deficit.

“It’s a missed opportunity for a pro-growth strategy at a time when the U.S. -- and the world -- could use one,” Zoellick, a former U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush, said in prepared remarks.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group in May that the Doha round needs a new approach after a decade of unsuccessful attempts to bridge gaps among 153 nations. His address was the most emphatic statement by the Obama administration that the long-running talks are foundering.

“If U.S. negotiators wait for the U.S. Congress to tell them it’s OK to close a deal, they’ll wait for a long time,” Zoellick said, adding that “Congress thinks that the executive branch is supposed to carry that load.”

‘Up or Down’

“And Congress knows deals, especially big ones like Doha, are sold as binary choices -- up or down -- for the international trading system or against,” he said.

Zoellick, whose term at the World Bank ends in a year, said such a defensive posture had already started “late in the Bush administration, even though President Bush pushed for a deal, so the fault is bipartisan.” He added that the U.S. didn’t bear the sole responsibility for the Doha failure.

Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. trade representative’s office, defended the Obama administration’s role in Doha. The round of talks are named for the city in Qatar where they began in 2001.

“For more than two years, the Obama administration has been the chief proponent of greater ambition in the Doha Round,” Guthrie said. “Unfortunately, in part because of the structure of the negotiations, there has been little appetite for that sort of ambition by other major trading partners.”

The administration would “continue to work in the weeks and months ahead to explore how best to strengthen the multilateral trading system,” Guthrie said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sandrine Rastello in Washington at srastello@bloomberg.net; Eric Martin in Washington at emartin21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net

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