By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top European Union official said Monday she believed President Barack Obama was serious about reaching a deal in long-running world trade talks, but the time has come for all countries to show their cards.
"I think first of all this administration is committed to open trade. It is committed to trying to resolve the Doha round," EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton said at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
"I'd like also to say, but I'm not certain, that we'll see significant breakthroughs in the next few weeks and months. But I do think there's no question in my mind that the energy and commitment of the new USTR (U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk) is absolutely there," Ashton said when asked if she had a clear picture of the Obama administration's trade policy.
Her comments followed a warning from World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy Friday that countries will not meet their latest goal of concluding a Doha round deal in 2010 unless negotiations pick up speed soon.
Many WTO members believe the blockage in the talks comes from Washington, where trade has taken a back seat to issues such as economic stimulus, healthcare, the war in Afghanistan and financial regulatory reform.
The Doha round was launched nearly eight years ago with the goal of helping poor countries prosper through trade and is already longest trade round in history.
In a second speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Ashton called on the United States to show leadership to bring the round to close and said the EU would also do its part.
"The stakes are high, but the time has come to show our cards," Ashton told the business group.
NO 'LEATHER-BOUND' VOLUME
A U.S. trade official who attended the SAIS event with Ashton and Swedish Trade Minister Ewa Bjorling said the Obama administration "clearly ... has been conducting a broader review of U.S. trade policy."
But there seems to be a mistaken impression "that this review would conclude with a nice leather-bound volume, which would be the Holy Bible of the Obama administration's trade policy and make everything perfectly clear," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Obama has made a number of choices that already define his trade policy, such as a decision to keep "the shoulder to the wheel" on Doha and to build support at home by increasing enforcement of trade pacts, the official said.
But Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk also have been clear "the biggest mistake we could make is to come back with a Doha agreement that would be rejected politically by the U.S. Congress," the official said.
Leading U.S. farm and business groups have said current Doha round texts do not provide them enough new export opportunities in exchange for politically difficult farm subsidy and tariff cuts the United States would have to make.
Ashton and Bjorling are in Washington for the Transatlantic Economic Council meeting, which is co-chaired by White House Deputy National Security Adviser Michael Froman and European Commission Vice President Verheugen and focuses mainly on removing regulatory barriers to trade.
Bjorling said she saw momentum building in Europe in support of negotiating a free trade pact with the United States, although that item is not formally on the agenda for the council meeting Tuesday.
Ashton said she was not opposed to the idea, but had not been formally requested by EU member states to pursue it.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)