Financial Times
January 15, 2013

US presses ahead with global trade talks

The Obama administration took a crucial step towards pressing ahead with talks towards a trade deal on international services, notifying Congress of its intention to pursue negotiations in a move that was cheered by US business groups.

The negotiations over a so-called International Services Agreement are expected to be launched this year in Geneva, with 21 nations pursuing a deal to liberalise trade in sectors ranging from financial services to telecommunications and technology.

Though it is far from clear that a deal can be reached, the push for a deal marks one of the few areas of potential progress in global trade talks as broader multilateral efforts to revive the Doha round have stalled.

Ron Kirk, US trade representative, said an agreement on services could boost jobs in America. “If business services achieved the same export potential as manufactured goods globally, US exports could increase by as much as $800bn,” Mr Kirk said. He added: “To begin to realise this potential, we need to surmount a range of barriers that lock out, constrain, or disrupt the international supply of services.”

Groups representing corporate America – including the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable – welcomed the move. “We strongly support USTR negotiating to liberalise trade in services. International services markets remain heavily restricted and US service suppliers face a wide range of barriers to doing business in overseas markets,” said Michael Ducker, chief operating officer of FedEx, the logistics group. “A new agreement to liberalise services trade would be a much-needed boost to our economic recovery, particularly at a time when growth opportunities are scarce.”

In addition, both Republicans and Democrats on the key congressional committees responsible for trade said they supported the ISA talks, suggesting the Obama administration will not have its hands tied by sceptical lawmakers as it tries to reach a deal. “The US leads the world in exporting services – and to stay competitive, we need to keep it that way,” said Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate finance committee.

“The ISA is a critical trade priority for me because it holds great promise for job creation in all sectors of the US economy, including manufacturing and agriculture, as well as services, and can help rebuild momentum for a global agenda of trade liberalisation,” added Dave Camp, Republican chairman of the ways and means committee.

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