Recriminations fly as WTO talks fail

China blamed “selfish” wealthy Western nations on Wednesday for the latest failure to conclude long-running talks to free up global trade, while Asian rival Japan pointed the finger at the region’s emerging giants. China’s official news agency, Xinhua, said the negotiations at World Trade Organisation headquarters in Geneva collapsed ultimately because the United States and the European Union were unwilling to scrap huge subsidies they pay their farmers.

But Japan upbraided China and India, as growing economic powers, for not shouldering greater responsibilities in the WTO.

Indian industry officials said responsibility for the collapse should be shared jointly by the US, the European Union, India and Brazil.

The talks collapsed on Tuesday over a proposal to help poor farmers deal with floods of imports.

Xinhua said the root cause was that rich countries cared too much about their own interests and too little about those of developing nations.

Not only were Washington and Brussels unwilling to face down their farm lobbies, but they put huge pressure on poor countries to slash tariffs on industrial imports and throw open their financial services markets to Western banks and insurers.

“This selfishness and short-sighted behaviour has directly caused the failure of this WTO ministerial meeting, which will have a number of serious consequences,” Xinhua said in a commentary.

A failure to revive the talks and clinch a trade deal would raise doubts about the ability of the international community to tackle other complex issues such as climate change and soaring food and energy prices in a global framework, Xinhua added.

But the Japanese government said China was less sinned-against than sinning.

“Frankly, I’d have to wonder whether China and India weighed their words and actions commensurate with their responsibility and how much they considered the overall global economy as they focused too much on their own interests,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference.

Blame game
Both India and China now wield more economic influence than they did when the trade talks were launched in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in 2001, Machimura told a news conference.

“In other words, their responsibilities have also grown bigger, too,” he said. “I hope China and India will address international negotiations like the WTO talks with a sense of how big a role they play in the world economy.”

China, too, gently chided India for the way the talks ended in what Commerce Minister Chen Deming called “tragic failure”.

Chen expressed his regret that the talks had foundered over differences between two countries—a reference to the United States and India—over a proposal to help poor farmers cope with import surges.

But trade experts in India dismissed any idea that New Delhi had been obstructionist.

“Our position had been clear right from the beginning that you cannot compromise the livelihood security of the small farmers,” said Nagesh Kumar, director-general at think tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS).

TK Bhaumik, chairperson of the economic affairs panel of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said responsibility should be shared jointly by India, Brazil, the US and the European Union.
He said the big loser now was multilateralism.

“It is a big setback for multilateralism and it is now clear that multilateralism has no future,” Bhaumik said.

The recriminations reflect the many fault-lines running through the WTO talks, which must reconcile the different political and economic priorities of the body’s 153 members.

China was ready to intensify its bilateral links with other WTO members, especially developing countries, Chen said in a statement.

The number of preferential trade deals involving Asia-Pacific countries has exploded in recent years, largely due to the deadlock in the WTO, and experts expect the trend to continue. Chile and Australia signed the latest two-way deal on Wednesday in Canberra, shortly after the WTO talks broke down.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia would let the dust settle on global talks and then try to work a way forward. “With world trade talks, the job is never done. It’s deeply disappointing, but we know that both Chile and Australia will be at the vanguard and the forefront of continuing to try to push the international community,” Smith told reporters. - Reuters

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