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Punke defends U.S. role in Doha round

U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Michael Punke vigorously defended the U.S. role in the Doha round of trade talks today, in an apparent reaction to World Bank President Robert Zoellick’s comments at a meeting in Geneva on Monday.

In an address that was leaked to The Washington Post, Zoellick said the United States was “dumbing down” the Doha round talks and that the Obama administration should exert leadership rather than accept the smaller deal that is now under discussion.

Punke, a Montanan who has worked for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., did not mention Zoellick by name, but said at a meeting that the “broader discussion of our ongoing Doha negotiations … calls for a brief response.”

“Over the past two and half years, the United States has played the leading role in seeking an ambitious outcome in Doha, including numerous initiatives to find creative solutions within the confines of the current framework,” Punke said.

“This leadership has included, when appropriate, flexibility in our negotiating positions, though frankly, if Doha could be completed by virtue of throwing a pile of concessions on the table, we would have had a deal many, many years ago,” he said. “Fixing Doha, of course, is more complicated than that. Our goal has been not just any deal — but a good deal.

“In particular, we have insisted that a Doha agreement must reflect the realities of the global economy in which we live. Wishing this complexity away with empty exhortations — or calls for unilateral concessions — will not result in success,” Punke said. “Rather, all major players must be willing to grapple directly with the challenges we face. The United States, as always, stands ready. Over the upcoming weeks and months, we will be at the forefront of determining whether any variant of the current Doha framework can result in a successful outcome.”

Zoellick was U.S. trade representative in the George W. Bush administration and later a State Department official before becoming head of the World Bank. His term is nearing an end and there has been no signal from the U.S. government about whether the Obama administration would support a second term or will promote another candidate. By tradition, the president of the World Bank is an American.