By BRADLEY S. KLAPPER
GENEVA (AP) -- With unemployment over 10 percent, the United States believes it can create jobs by making international trade deals and ending a series of long-running commercial disputes over everything from airline subsidies to poultry, the U.S. trade chief said Wednesday.
The U.S. is finding the going hard at the World Trade Organization.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ron Kirk said the Obama administration's strategy in WTO trade negotiations has shifted from making goods cheaper to helping job-making industries in the United States.
"We are now turning our attention almost full-time to how we create jobs and continue to grow the economy," said Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, as a three-day WTO conference ended. "Too many Americans believed ... that our previous trade policies had been overly generous to our partners."
Kirk, on his second trip to Geneva, said the U.S. was rebalancing the WTO's so-called Doha round of trade talks to ensure that they create better conditions for American exports. "In most cases when we export more, we get to hire more people," he said.
The negotiations launched in Qatar's capital in 2001 aim to reach a binding treaty that would slash subsidies and cut tariffs in over 150 countries, including new economic powerhouses like China, India and Brazil. Poorer countries want to ship more produce and cheap goods to the rich world, while developed nations want greater access for their manufacturers and service providers in emerging economies.
The talks could add billions of dollars to the global economy, but they are mired in disagreement. The round is already six years behind schedule, and even a completed accord would have to win parliamentary approval in most countries and Senate ratification in the United States -- which is far from a given with the Democratic majority.
"The U.S. is having a tough time Obama-izing a trade deal that was largely negotiated by the Bush administration," said Christopher Wenk, director of international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But it is trying.
In a 20-minute interview, Kirk offered few concrete examples of how his policies have changed in substance from those of his predecessors under George W. Bush's two terms in office.
Instead, he spoke of a new format the U.S. has introduced into the WTO talks to increase one-on-one neogtiations between countries over how much to liberalize markets.
The U.S. has faced resistance from a number of countries who prefer global formulas for cutting agricultural and manufacturing tariffs, even if they often leave negotiations with only a sketchy understanding of how they would translate into new market gains for exporters of everything from beef and poultry to cars and computers.
There was still opposition this week, even as the WTO sought to avoid controversy by keeping the troubled Doha round off the agenda at its first "ministerial" conference in four years.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim spoke vaguely of countries seeking to "unravel" the round, while others lamented the lack of clear progress.
Kirk said negotiations were making headway, quietly.
"I don't know if I care much for wagering on the proposition of whether it happens next year or not," he said, speaking of the deadline set by the G-20 group of rich and developing countries in September. "I will tell you we are at a markedly different and better place now than when I was here five months ago."
Kirk said a number of disputes could also aid the administration's job-creating goals.
Asked about a September ruling against European aid for aviation giant Airbus, he said the goal wasn't to punish the European Union or to win a decision on principle.
"With Boeing, if we could now use this preliminary ruling as a way to help get this matter resolved sooner rather than later, it could be the difference between production lines staying open and people keeping their jobs, and new workers being hired now," Kirk said. "Who knows what the market would look like five years from now?"
This approach applies for all disputes the United States is currently engaged in, he said. Those include spats with China over its restrictions on U.S. films and music, and price-fixing of raw materials needed by U.S. and Chinese manufactuers.
Kirk said he wanted quick results to help ease the economic duress in the United States.
"This whole notion of everything taking 10 years, 15 years and 20 years is just antithetical to me," he said. "The world changes too quick. Competition is too fierce. The consumers, businesses, workers can't often wait 20 or 30 years just to get a result."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.