US trade chief: ‘Complex trade-offs’ needed at WTO talks

By Thomson Reuters Feb 29, 2024 | 1:14 PM

By Emma Farge

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said on Friday breakthroughs were still possible in overnight negotiations at the World Trade Organization, but “complex trade-offs” would be needed even for less difficult topics such as fishing.

If some or all of the talks aimed at fixing global commerce rules do collapse, fragmentation among the BRICS bloc of emerging economies will have contributed, she told Reuters.

“We’re going to be seeing kind of some extraordinary efforts over the course of these next hours into tomorrow. So some really interesting breakthroughs could still happen,” Tai told Reuters on the sidelines of the talks in Abu Dhabi.

“But if fewer things happen. If some of these areas break down…it looks like some of that intra-BRICS dynamic will have contributed.”

She cited divisions among developing countries — which have traditionally sought to act in concert in WTO negotiations — on an investment deal which was strongly supported by China but opposed by India and South Africa. Other fissures exist on e-commerce and agriculture, she added.

Fisheries is probably the most likely deal of all, she said.

“But in order to get there, there are a bunch of quite complex trade-offs,” she said, citing Pacific islands’ opposition to the deal in its current form.

She described agricultural talks, seen as the key to unlocking other blocked negotiations, as “hard”. On a possible extension of a decades-long moratorium on placing tariffs on digital trade, she said: “Maybe it can be unlocked … if agriculture is unlocked.”

(Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman)