US trade policy experts on Thursday offered a pessimistic view of world trade talks, with one pronouncing the negotiations already dead and another saying any agreement would fall far short of initial expectations.

“Doha is dead,” said Grant Aldonas, a former Bush administration official who now works on international business issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s very hard to see how you create a deal that works.”

Aldonas, who was part of the US negotiating team that helped launch the talks six years ago in Doha, Qatar, said the talks were doomed because the structure of the negotiations was at odds with the goal countries set for themselves—using trade to spur development in the poorest countries.

Instead of focusing on that, countries have engaged in the “mercantilist” approach of trying to gain the most new trade opportunities for themselves, while making the fewest possible concessions, Aldonas said.

President George W. Bush has contributed to the problem by relying on the “politics of fear” to promote his policies, Aldonas said. That has given voters an exaggerated view of the threat the United States faces from abroad and made it more difficult for US politicians to support trade liberalization, he said.

Countries at World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva are now focused on a pair of draft texts for cutting farm subsidies and tariffs and opening protected manufactured goods markets to more trade.

New texts are expected soon that could bring countries closer to agreement or expose deep divisions that remain.

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said he still saw some hope for a deal, but only one that liberalizes trade far less than was hoped when the talks were launched.

“There will be a huge marketing effort to market ‘Doha lite’ as ‘Doha heavy’” and most people won’t know the difference, Hufbauer said. World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy has already started exaggerating the deal, he said.

Washington lobbyists who care most about the outcome of the talks will be disappointed, but it’s likely they will line up to push for congressional approval, he said.

The Bush administration, with support from corporate chief executives, can be relied on to mount an aggressive effort to “save the (WTO) system” by ratifying the deal, Hufbauer said.

However, a congressional aide who works on trade issues said getting any WTO deal approved next year would be difficult given current concern in Congress about trade. (Reuters)