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Business lobbyists who were supportive of the now-collapsed Doha round of World Trade Organization talks are putting their disappointment aside and placing a positive spin on the outlook for other upcoming trade deals. But opponents of those measures say the Doha breakdown is a sign that the tide is starting to shift in their favor.
Ron Sorini, a former chief U.S. textile negotiator who is now a senior vice president at the firm Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, said the collapse of WTO talks will put greater emphasis on narrower free-trade agreements.
“U.S. trade policy is going to have to shift now from a multilateral approach to a more bilateral one,” Sorini said.
Sorini’s clients include the American Apparel and Footwear Association and the Outdoor Industry Association, which support such upcoming trade agreements as permanent normalized trade relations with Vietnam and a free-trade agreement with Peru.
The breakdown in WTO talks “sends a strong message that the U.S. is going to stick to its principles on trade negotiations,” he said, adding that such a message should make it clear to Members that U.S. negotiators are “responsible. We can trust them. Skeptics in Congress will see that the administration is being responsible.”
But Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, said the WTO collapse was a sign of a greater world-wide “political backlash” against the current free-trade model. That backlash, she said, will only give her side further momentum as it seeks to defeat measures like Vietnam and Peru.
The reality Congress has to face, she said, is that broader constituencies, including small businesses, farmers and the religious community — “groups that weren’t in this fight two years ago — are in it, against more of the same. ... My suspicion [is that] the political appetite is calling for a hiatus, a prudent pause on trade. I’ve never seen so many House races” in which candidates are focusing on trade.
Wallach agreed there would be a greater focus on regional trade agreements because of the WTO collapse, but she said the attention will come from both sides.
“Will it make it easier to have them put into place? No,” she said.
Bill Lane, Washington, D.C., director of governmental affairs for Caterpillar Inc., turned to a boxing analogy to sum up his thoughts of the trade fights. Boxer Floyd Patterson, he said, “was knocked down more than anyone and said it’s not about how many times you get knocked down but how many times you get up.”
The Doha round collapse, Lane said, “is a setback” but “it’s my belief that the Congress and the administration are going to be even more determined than they were before” and that they are more likely to move on the Peru and Vietnam deals before the end of the session.
R.D. Folsom, a senior director at Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, said he doesn’t see much impact from the WTO stalemate.
“If anything, I think it would have a positive effect” for Peru and Vietnam, he said.
The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled to mark up both bills on Thursday.