WTO talks sour as 'blame game' begins

The United States exchanged harsh words with China and India as key World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks dragged into a second week on Monday, trading blame for stuttering steps toward a world trade pact, delegates said.

“The blame game has started. The US began by pointing its finger at India and China, and then China retorted sharply,” a diplomat in Monday morning’s meeting of the WTO’s 153 member states said.

The US accused India and China of threatening to shatter a fragile deal reached by key parties in Geneva over the past week, according to a statement obtained by Agence France-Presse.

“All their invocations of development during the past years ring hollow when these major players threaten the development benefits already on the table that are absolutely vital to the vast majority of the membership,” the US deputy head at the Geneva mission to the WTO, David Shark, said in the statement.

“Their actions have thrown the ... Doha Development Round into the gravest jeopardy of its nearly seven-year life.”

India’s Commerce Minister, Kamal Nath, bluntly rebutted the charge.

“We are not holding up the talks,” he said on the sidelines of Monday morning’s meeting.

“Who’s holding up this round I think are the large developed countries ...
who are looking for commercial interests and enhancing prosperity rather than looking for content which reduces poverty.”

Nath cited domestic subsidies as one of the main areas of dispute and insisted that about 100 countries backed India’s position on proposals for special import tariff measures known as SSM.

“The United States wants twice the amount of subsidies than what it’s actually given,” he said. “They say ... we want the right to double our subsidies and we won’t triple them, so ... what price are you willing to pay?”

The US charge that large emerging countries are holding up the talks “is not borne out by facts”, he said, since “there are several countries who made the statement” on the SSM, or special safeguard mechanism.

The SSM is a system that would allow certain countries such as India to raise their import tariffs to protect their poor farmers if imports surge over a certain level.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean said that countries had been very patient and that “we can understand a degree of frustration”.

“It’s normal in any negotiations so we’ve got to overcome the frustrations and not lose sight of the objectives,” he said, adding that the state members were “so close” to a deal that “we need to try and conclude it”.

Ministers from about 35 key trading economies have been in Geneva for more than a week in an attempt to conclude the basis of a global trade pact.

However, initial optimism that emerged on Friday dimmed over the weekend as emerging economies held out for a better deal.

Leaving talks on Sunday night, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab showed her frustration against the emerging economies.

She told reporters that there was a path “for a successful outcome on Friday night”, and that while it was not perfect, it was delicately balanced, with a strong endorsement.

“Unfortunately a few emerging markets have decided that somehow they want to re-balance it in favour of one or another issue,” she said.

“That was a very delicate balance that was struck. You pull one thread, it threatens to unravel.”—AFP

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