Low expectations for Barroso-Bush meeting

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Low expectations for Barroso-Bush meeting

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Top EU officials have made their latest attempt in Washington to salvage global trade talks, notably stuck over farm subsidies. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso met President George W Bush and the leaders of the new Democratic Congress. He was accompanied by the EU’s trade chief, Peter Mandelson.

Analysts and diplomats have made no secret of their scepticism that the Europeans’ visit to Washington will produce a deal to restart the Doha Development Round. They say it would be more likely at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month, because other major trading nations will be there.

Agriculture has been the chief sticking point for the global talks, launched in 2001. Many Doha supporters fear the round could be put on hold for several years if negotiators can’t clinch a breakthrough by March. Bush’s “fast-track” power to approve trade deals without Congress getting involved expires on 30 June.

Washington has so far rejected demands for further cuts in farm subsidies, saying offers by Brussels, India and others to cut their import tariffs on farm goods are far too modest. Another bone of transatlantic contention is the American visa policy toward the recent EU members. The bloc has kept up its protests that citizens from some of its countries must apply for a visa to enter the US, while this requirement is waived for those from the others.

Last autumn, Bush signalled flexibility on this but in the end the decision for changing the criteria lies in the hands of Congress in which now the Democrats hold a majority. As for differences over global warming, in spite of reawakened speculation, even with the shift in power, Washington is considered likely to stay out of the Kyoto Protocol.