(June 30) WASHINGTON, D.C. — On the eve of a trip to Geneva that could put an exclamation point on the failure of the Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said June 26 he remained hopeful for both a positive outcome for the world trade deal and congressional action on immigration reform.

“It’s not surprising that we’re down to the 11th hour (for the WTO). Negotiations often go that way,” he said in an interview at his U.S. Department of Agriculture office.

Whether it was inside knowledge or Johanns’ natural Midwestern optimism that sustained his hope for a breakthrough at the WTO talks, other members of Congress were doubtful.

“There may be some way out of it, but I sure don’t see what it is,” said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla.

Even Johanns admitted it won’t be easy to cut through the clutter and jump-start talks that are already behind schedule.

“There will be about 50 countries in Geneva,” he said. “It will be a negotiating session, but with that many countries, if they each take a few minutes to state their positions, you begin to use up the time.”

Johanns repeated what he said many times: The U.S. proposal last October to reduce domestic subsidies has not been met with anything from the rest of the world that makes U.S. negotiators believe their ambition has been matched.

In return for slashing farm payments to program crops, U.S. negotiators want greater access to markets not only in developed markets like Japan and Europe, but also in developing markets in India, Brazil and China.

On June 27, Johanns and Ambassador Susan Schwab, U.S. trade representative, appeared with congressional leaders to convey solidarity of the U.S. position. At that time, House Agriculture Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said there is “absolutely no support” in Congress for further U.S. concessions without reciprocal gains.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Goodlatte said.

WTO negotiators face tight time constraints to put an agreement together and present it to Congress well before President Bush’s trade negotiating authority expires in mid-2007.

“The Doha Round comes to an end at the end of 2006 and needs to come together very quickly,” Johanns said. While the “magic moment” of failure can be a point of debate, Johanns said the June and July time frame is critical to hammering out a general concept.

Johanns said unless agreement on the broad parameters of a trade deal comes together within weeks, there won’t be time finish all the detail work such a massive trade deal requires.