Friday, July 25, 2008

US Senators question USTR's capacity to conclude a WTO deal

Published by South-North Development Monitor, July 25, 2008
Geneva, 24 July (Kanaga Raja) -- Two top leaders of the United States Senate have cast further doubts over efforts at the WTO to conclude the Doha trade talks at the current mini-Ministerial, and in effect have challenged the capacity of US Trade Representative Susan Schwab to make any binding commitments on behalf of the United States Congress.

In a letter to US President George W Bush, the two top leaders of the US Senate, Democratic Senators Russell D. Feingold and Robert C. Byrd, have asked what US Trade Representative Susan Schwab and other US trade officials, in the absence of Congressional Fast Track Authority, are telling other countries at the WTO mini-ministerial about their ability to make binding commitments, and obtaining Congressional approval for them.
In the letter dated 23 July 2008, Feingold and Byrd have referred to the United States participating in a Ministerial meeting of the WTO this week in Geneva, whose purpose is to finalize an agreement on certain outstanding issues related to the WTO Doha Round.

"The announcement of this WTO Ministerial was surprising to us," said the two senators.

Typically, they said, high-level negotiations only occur when all parties have authority to make a deal. Yet, the US Constitution grants Congress exclusive authority "to regulate commerce with foreign Nations" and to "lay and collect Taxes [and] Duties."

"As you know, for decades, US presidents have obtained delegations of this congressional trade authority under what is commonly known as Fast Track. However, your delegation of Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority terminated on June 30, 2007.

"Congress has refused to provide you with further authority - either more Fast Track or any other form of trade authority - nor is there any prospect of that occurring before the end of your term.

"Indeed, 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," said the letter to President Bush.

Therefore, said the two Senators, "we are interested in understanding what USTR Schwab or other US trade officials are representing to other countries' officials regarding their capacity to make binding commitments at this Ministerial on behalf of the US Congress."

"We are eager to ensure that if US trade negotiators participate in the current WTO ministerial, they represent US positions that comport with the sort of WTO agreement that could obtain support in the US Congress."

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