The phrase the devil is in the detail' was never so apt than in the EU and US' declarations on the Doha Round of WTO talks, which followed European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's trip to Washington on 8 January. At a joint press conference with US President George Bush, the leaders stressed that getting a deal on Doha, talks on which have been suspended since July over an EU-US spat about farm subsidies, was a top priority. But just how hard securing that deal will be was made patently obvious at a joint conference that followed a parallel meeting between EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab.


With the tension between the two negotiators palpable, Mandelson said progress had to be made by March 2007 or else "the window of opportunity will close for some years," adding that "we are in the endgame". Schwab seemed to contradict this assessment in her immediate follow-up, saying "ultimately it's content over chronology that matters" and that "nobody is going to reach agreement over an artificial deadline". The clock is clearly ticking because the Bush administration's mandate to negotiate a deal on Doha will lapse on 1 July 2007 unless it is renewed by Congress. Given that the Democrats, who have traditionally been more protectionist than the Republicans on trade issues, now control both the House and Senate following last November's elections, such a renewal looks far from certain.

Nevertheless, Mandelson was not giving up hope, noting that "my contacts with the Democrat leadership encouraged me to believe that they would back a multilateral agreement". He seemed to be thus putting the pressure back in the Bush administration's camp to come up with concessions. Likening the Doha talks to a "three-dimensional chess game," Schwab stressed how getting a deal also hinged on many other countries such as Brazil and Japan. She said it was "unrealistic" to expect a simultaneous coming together of all these countries. However, she pledged to consult closely with all trading partners in the run-up to the next round of offers, adding "we want to ensure there are no nasty surprises".


Elsewhere, Barroso highlighted the need for the twelve EU member states currently denied access to the US visa waiver programme to be added to it. Barroso pushed this issue when he met the new Democratic leadership of the US Congress, House of Representatives Speaker...

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