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

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Argentina ex-president Macri accused of spying on 400 journalists

The complaint states that the background checks on journalists were "neither ordered nor authorised by any magistrate"

E-commerce will assist economy

Allowing companies to sell products online will help them to stay afloat during the lockdown

To fight Covid-19, we must fight intellectual property, trade and investment rules

These restrictions must be overturned or ignored because they are limiting the production and importing of essential medical equipment such as ventilators

Trump trial opens with fiery clashes over witnesses

The two sides squared off in fiery exchanges that circled around the procedures for the trial and gave the Democrats an opportunity to spell out their arguments for Trump's guilt on national television

Trump rejects climate ‘prophets of doom’ as Thunberg warns Davos

The 50th meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) got under way in the ski resort with an avowed focus on climate change but with starkly different visions over global warming laid bare

2019: The ones who left us

From Uyinene Mrwetyana, Oliver Mtukudzi to Xolani Gwala, Mail & Guardian remembers those who have passed on

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday