WASHINGTON, June 28 (AFP): The United States voiced optimism Tuesday that struggling global trade negotiations would eventually succeed, even if a crucial World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Switzerland this week fails.
"We're going to try to get this done as soon as we can, rather than say if we don't get it done by the weekend it won't happen," US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said several hours before her departure for Geneva, after a meeting with US lawmakers.
"We can't be stampeded into an agreement just for a deadline," she said at a news briefing.
"We want to stick to deadlines, deadlines are important, but deadlines in and of themselves are not going to create a good agreement," she said.
"We need to negotiate a good agreement."
The WTO opens a meeting Thursday to try to save four and a half years of negotiations aimed at liberalising trade in a way to help developing countries.
WTO Director General Pascal Lamy has set an end-of-June deadline for countries meeting in Geneva to agree on basic formulas for cutting farm subsidies and reducing agricultural and manufacturing tariffs.
Many observers see the meeting as a last-ditch attempt to revitalise the stalled Doha Development Round, which was supposed to have been completed two years ago.
The WTO's 149 divided members, who have repeatedly missed their targets for a deal, are under mounting pressure to complete the round by a December 2006 deadline fixed during a conference in Hong Kong last year.
The United States may hold the key to achieving a global trade accord but appears unwilling to make concessions, amid pressure from skeptical lawmakers and powerful farm lobbies.
Adding to the pressures on trade negotiators is the expiration of a special US trade tool a year from now.
On July 1, 2007, the government of the world's most powerful trading nation is due to lose its special authority from lawmakers to fast-track trade deals, which could hamper the WTO negotiations if they overrun the year-end deadline.
Under fast track, the US Congress is entitled to approve or reject trade deals but cannot amend them.
"There's no US trade representative who'd ever tell you that he or she doesn't want" the fast-track authority, Schwab said. But, "would you bet a whole deal on it? No."
"We are eager for a comprehensive agreement, and determined to craft an agreement that is good for American workers and manufacturers, good for the service provider, and good for our farmers and ranchers," she said.
Republican lawmaker Bob Goodlatte said it was important to continue fast-track authority, "whether we reach an agreement or not."
Schwab reiterated the US trade position, recalling an October offer to cut direct aid to agriculture by 60 per cent was still available, on condition US trading partners further opened their markets and lower their customs tariffs on US exports.