US President George W. Bush and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso met at the White House Tuesday but gave no sign of breaking a transatlantic deadlock on trade.
Smiles for the cameras but Bush and Barroso talked tough in private
During a brief public appearance in the Oval Office, the two leaders each described their conversation as "frank" -- often a diplomatic code word for disagreeing firmly -- but said they agreed on the importance of freer trade.
"We talked about what it requires to get the Doha round moving forward. We had a good, frank discussion on that. And there's no question we share the same objective," said Bush.
The so-called Doha Round was launched in the Qatari capital in 2001 but has repeatedly stalled since then, primarily over disagreements on agricultural tariffs and subsidies.
"We have a common interest in opening up markets," agreed Barroso, who said the two leaders had discussed the issue in "a very frank and friendly manner."
"We very much, in the European Union, are looking forward for a success of those talks. We want it to have ambitious and balanced results on agriculture, but not only agriculture," said Barroso.
EU chief urges common policy for world's poor
Barroso called for cooperation between the US and EU.
The European leader said the trade talks ought to take up the service industry "so that our citizens can really see the benefits of a globalization" and that the United States and Europe had to work with poor countries as well.
The Doha Round aims to expand free trade in a way that benefits poor nations but the developing world is accusing developed nations of refusing to give up a trade system largely skewed in favor of the rich countries.
A European official with Barroso said the roughly hour-long discussion had focused on the trade relationship and blamed domestic political pressures on both sides for the absence of a breakthrough.
The two leaders had also been expected to discuss US-EU cooperation to contain avian flu amid outbreak fears and to make progress on Middle East peace days before Bush meets with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas Thursday.
US accepting importance of EU as partner
US President George W. Bush said the US wants the EU to succeed.
"The main thing I came away from again is, one, I value Jose's leadership, his advice; but also how important the relationship between the EU and the United States is and that we can achieve a lot of important things when we work together," said Bush, who called the exchange "a good, frank discussion."
"It is important that the Europeans know that our relationship with Europe is very important to us. America wants the European Union to succeed so we can pursue important issues together.”
Bush’s statements supported a growing view among experts on transatlantic relations that the United States has accepted the EU, if not as an equal, at least as a very important partner in the political and economic spheres.
Annette Heuser, an expert with the Bertelsmann institute told Deutsche Welle: "The Americans have realized that there is no alternative to Europe as a partner. There is no other contemporary that is as reliable for the US as Europe is."
Europe takes small steps to realigning with US
The United States and Europe are coming closer together -- slowly.
Barroso’s language suggested a similar realization had happened at the heart of Europe. US-EU relations are "very important, first of all, because we share exactly the same values of freedom, democracy and human rights, and we complement each other in pushing forward this agenda," said Barroso.
The two leaders did not mention a potential trade breakthrough, despite the European Union saying last week it was ready to reduce its agricultural subsidies by 70 percent and its duties on farm goods by 60 percent.
The offer came as the United States also proposed making deep cuts in its official assistance to farmers. US Trade Representative Rob Portman has said Europe needs to offer more market access.
Barroso countered by urging the United States to offer duty free and quota free access to products from poor countries. "This would be a strong gesture in terms of development and faith in market openness," he said.
EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who accompanied Barroso to Washington said that while there were differences, a coomon policy would eventually pay dividends on a global scale.
"I believe that it is very important that the EU and the Americans realize that we must lead the way. But we are in a situation of political negotiation and in such a situation we should all ask each other to do more."
Agreement would ease WTO's path to treaty
The US and EU want to have an agreement before the WTO meeting.
The 148 nations in the World Trade Organization (WTO) are trying to finalize a treaty that will cut barriers to commerce and make use of trade to reduce poverty in developing countries.
Developing countries have been pushing the EU and United States to do more to open their markets and cut subsidies, which they say distort world trade to the disadvantage of poor producers.
WTO members are up against a looming deadline -- they hope to have at least the bare bones of their treaty ready by mid-December, when they hold a key summit in Hong Kong in December.