GENEVA, March 23 (BSS/AFP) - The United States remains a leading driver of the global economy and a key player in talks on liberalising global commerce, but there are concerns that Washington could get sidetracked by bilateral trade deals, the WTO said yesterday.
"Trading partners benefited as the United States remained the world's largest importer and a key engine of global growth," the World Trade Organisation said in a review of US trade policy.
"Nevertheless, market access barriers and other distorting measures, notably subsidies, persist in a few but important areas," said the WTO, adding that tackling these would benefit US consumers and taxpayers and also would boost the global economy.
The last review of the United States was in early 2004.
"Its economy has continued to support global growth by maintaining its market largely open," the latest report said, calling that openness "one of the factors that foster US growth".
The WTO said that it was important to keep the US economy open "by pre-empting possible protectionist sentiment".
The report noted Washington had made a "stated priority" of its involvement in the Doha Round of WTO negotiations, which were launched in 2001 with the aim of cutting barriers to trade.
But it also expressed concern that the US government, in pursuing a web of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with individual countries, could get diverted from Doha.
The report warned that "the increasing number of FTAs in which the United States participates raises concerns about administrative resources being distracted away from the multilateral system, trade or investment diversion, and interests being created that could complicate multilateral negotiations".
Washington had just three FTAs in 2001 but the total had reached 15 by the end of 2005. A further 12 FTAs where under negotiation at the start of 2006, said the WTO.
US Trade Representative Rob Portman said the administration, while remaining committed to the Doha Round, had no intention of eschewing bilateral deals.
"We will also continue to pursue FTAs because they complement these multilateral efforts to bring down barriers," he said in a statement in Washington.