* Rise of developing countries a quandary for WTO
* China says duties on U.S. autos within WTO rules
* Oxfam slams aid for Africa cotton producers as PR stunt
By Tom Miles
GENEVA, Dec 15 Sparring between China and
the United States dominated the start of the World Trade
Organization biennial conference on Thursday, with each
obliquely blaming the other for deadlock in the Doha round of
trade talks which has all but paralysed the WTO.
Without mentioning each other by name, China's Commerce
Minister Chen Deming and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk each
suggested the other was to blame.
Kirk said the current impasse in negotiations came down to
"one single, vexing quandary: the WTO has not come to terms over
core questions of shared responsibilities among its biggest and
most successful members.
"The world has changed profoundly since this negotiation
began a decade ago, most obviously in the rise of the emerging
economies. The results of our negotiations thus far do not
reflect this change, and yet they must if we are to be
successful," he said in a speech at the opening of the meeting.
The rise of developing countries, chief among them China,
has tied the Doha negotiations in knots. The trade
liberalisation effort was originally meant to help developing
countries, but those same countries are now trading giants,
calling into question the need to give them special help.
But China and other developing countries have refused to
give up on Doha. Chen suggested the negotiations were being held
up by U.S. politics and could be resumed after the presidential
and congressional elections next year.
"I know that the current difficulties were not just brought
about by the current financial crisis. It was also due to the
fact that some countries are entering into a cycle of political
elections and therefore are not in a position to be flexible.
"It seems a bit like hibernation right now but spring is not
far away," he told a news conference.
The ministerial meeting is not expected to make any progress
on the Doha round itself, but diplomats hope it will give some
guidance about what to do next, as well as renewing promises to
guard against protectionism.
But any hope for unity was shattered even before the meeting
began. China slapped anti-dumping duties on U.S. exports of
large cars and SUVs on Wednesday, widely seen as the latest
volley in a trade war with the United States.
Chen said the duties conformed with WTO rules and were not
protectionist, adding anyone who thought they were could use the
WTO system to challenge them.
"We have to draw a clear line between protectionist measures
and normal trade remedies," he said.
In a bid to show themselves as the friend of the poorest
countries, despite the failure to agree on Doha, the two had
earlier separately unveiled packages of help for Africa's
"Cotton Four": Mali, Benin, Chad and Burkina Faso.
The U.S. package included $16 million over four years, while
the Chinese deal mentioned $20 million over three years.
Romain Benicchio, a policy advisor at Oxfam, rubbished the
U.S. offer as "largely a face-saving public relations gesture"
by the world's biggest cotton exporter.
"Offering poor countries market access for cotton is like
Saudi Arabia offering to drop tariffs on oil. The main problem
has never been U.S. cotton market access, but U.S. cotton
subsidies and dumping," Benicchio said in an emailed statement.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Sophie Hares)