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"Today, the Administration has indicated its readiness to begin technical discussions Thursday morning with key congressional staff on the draft implementing bills … for the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama."

Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Press Release, May 4, 2011

I'm encouraged that President Obama and his team are beginning to move on trade policy, but I can't help wondering in what direction they are headed and what it means for development policy. Two of my concerns are highlighted by the timing of USTR's announcement that they will move ahead on the three bilateral trade agreements, though I have no reason to think it was intentional.

First, the USTR announcement comes less than a week after trade negotiators at the World Trade Organization all but nailed the lid on the coffin of the multilateral negotiations known as the Doha Round. The pending bilateral trade agreements will contribute to further fragmentation of the international rules-based system at a time of particular vulnerability, and any weakening of that system is a particular concern for smaller, poorer developing countries.

Second, looking ahead to next week, it is unsurprising but nevertheless distressing that there is no sign U.S. officials will announce plans to open the U.S. market to exports from the poorest countries at the United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in Istanbul (May 9-13). Extending full market access for LDC exports, which has been on the international agenda since the Millennium Declaration a decade ago, is one of the most obvious deliverables for a conference that will highlight the need for sustainable—and sustained—growth to allow these countries to develop and reduce poverty. Without clear support from the United States, progress on this initiative is unlikely. I’ll expand on my concerns about the direction of U.S. trade policy in a forthcoming CGD note and post-conference blog. Stay tuned.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.