Congress an Essential Piece of Doha Puzzle

A Government Accountability Office report looks into Congress' role in World Trade Organization negotiations.

With President Bush's fast-track trade authority set to expire this summer and a 2007 Farm Bill in the works, the future of the Doha round remains uncertain, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

The report focuses on the World Trade Organization's Doha Development Round of global trade talks and Congress' role in efforts to reach a Doha agreement. GAO takes on a pessimistic tone in the report in regard to the chances of a Doha agreement, pointing out both WTO members' disparate views on agricultural subsidies and Congress' own unwillingness to commit to a Doha-friendly Farm Bill before a global agreement is reached.

According to GAO, Congressional action can possibly make or break Doha on two issues. By either granting an extension on the administration's trade promotion authority and writing a new farm bill that pares back trade-distorting subsidies, Congress can move Doha forward. If Congress wishes to reject a potential Doha agreement, it can do so by denying a trade authority extension or by extending the provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab has spoken with Democratic leaders in Congress in order to negotiate a trade authority extension, and a deal does not appear to be out of the question. While the chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have not expressed a desire to simply renew the 2002 Farm Bill, the 2007 version may not go far enough in its reforms for the taste of other major WTO groups, such as the European Union.

As agricultural support is a sensitive topic for many of the major groups in Doha negotiations, and altering protective measures is both a political and practical problem, WTO deadlines have been ineffective at hurrying negotiations, GAO says.

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