No Doha Deal Is Better Than Bad One — U.S. Nominees

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The United States will not agree to a deal in world trade talks unless other countries make better offers to open their markets to U.S. farmers, manufacturers and service companies, say two U.S. trade nominees.

“I believe a good deal is doable. But we will not do a deal at any cost,” Michael Punke, President Barack Obama’s choice to be U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization, said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on his nomination Nov. 4.

“From my meetings and conversations with members (of Congress), with your staffs and with various stakeholder groups, I understand very clearly: No deal is better than a bad deal,” Punke said.

The Doha round of world trade talks was launched eight years ago with the goal of helping poor countries prosper through trade. World leaders recently set a goal of concluding a deal in the long-running talks next year.

But U.S. trade officials have said they need much more clarity about market openings that big developing countries like China, Brazil and India are willing to make in exchange for politically difficult cuts in U.S. farm subsidies and peak industrial tariffs.

The United States is being asked to make “significant” cuts in domestic support and export subsidies for farmers, said Islam “Isi” Siddiqui, nominee for chief U.S. agricultural negotiator.

“Therefore a final agreement on agriculture must provide commercially meaningful access to U.S. agricultural products into the markets of both developed and emerging economies,” Siddiqui said.

Senators on the committee, which has oversight over trade, took pains to repeat what they called a “mantra” for U.S. officials in the Doha talks.

“I urge you to remember that no deal is better than a bad deal,” Sen. Max Baucus, who chairs the committee, told Punke.

Punke, a former U.S. trade official turned novelist and screenwriter, got his start in government working as international trade counsel for Baucus. He pledged to take the “mantra” to heart.

Punke told senators that he understands the impact of trade on Americans while living in Montana the past six years.

“I’m friends with the farmers, ranchers, miners and entrepreneurs whose jobs depend on those exports. But I’ve also watched lumber mills close, and seen the impact of those job losses ripple through the heart of my community,” Punke said.

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