Tempers flare at global trade talks

July 28, 2008
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, GENEVA, July 28 – French objections to a planned global trade pact added to bad tempers Monday as accusations flew between major economies over the slow progress of World Trade Organization negotiations.

On day eight of hard bargaining, China, India and the United States traded harsh words during a morning meeting, while in Paris, France said it would reject the proposals currently on the table.

Other big players sought to calm nerves, saying that a deal was too close at hand to throw away the past week\’s hard-won gains.

In a meeting with all 153 member states, the United States accused India and China of threatening to shatter a fragile deal reached by key parties in Geneva over the week, according to a statement obtained by AFP.

"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.

The accusations met with a sharp retort from the Chinese, diplomats attending the meeting said.

In reply, Chinese Ambassador Sun Zhenyu said during the morning session that China had "tried very hard" to contribute to a successful round.

"It is a little bit surprised that at this time the US started this finger pointing," he said.

He also turned the tables on the United States, saying that while Washington had offered to cut the ceiling of its agricultural subsidies to 14.5 billion dollars, the actual annual spending was only 7-8 billion dollars a year.

That suggested that the United States could continue to keep current subsidies, with room to even increase the volume.

"Where is the new market access to the developed countries?" asked Sun.

India\’s Commerce Minister Kamal Nath also bluntly rebutted the US charge.

"We are not holding up the talks," he told AFP 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."

Meanwhile, other ministers from key nations sought to calm nerves, calling for focus to be kept on achieving a deal.

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 told AFP, adding that the state members were "so close" to a deal that "we need to try and conclude it."

Brazil\’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim also tried to play peacemaker, saying: "The main problem is to keep the nerves down."

Optimism had grown after a perceived breakthrough on Friday in deadlocked talks, followed by further encouraging signs from key players after discussions on the services sector.

But resistance toughened over the weekend, with emerging nations saying that the draft on the table remained unbalanced.

Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu said on Monday: "We\’ll see what happens today. A number of major developing countries and groupings still have major reservations on parts of the text."

Pangestu, who leads the G33 group of developing countries, said the deal tabled still had an "imbalance… there has to be a level of compromise."

In Paris, France added fuel to fire, as the government said that "the project currently on the table is not acceptable as it stands."

It also emerged that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had rung European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso over the weekend to complain about the proposed deal.

Sarkozy had also demanded that EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson travel to Paris to explain his position — a demand that was refused, a European source told AFP.

Current negotiations at the WTO are handled by Mandelson who holds the mandate to negotiate here on behalf of the European Union.

However, any proposals would have ultimately to be put to all countries in the EU and ratified.

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