INTERVIEW - U.S. accuses China of blocking Doha trade talks

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Trade Organization’s long-running Doha round is stuck and a deal is impossible until China and other big emerging economies join real negotiations to open their markets, the U.S. ambassador to the WTO said on Thursday.

A girl stands at a shoe shop in Hanoi, December 23, 2009. The WTO's long-running Doha round is stuck and a deal is impossible until China and other big emerging countries join real negotiations to open their markets, a top U.S. trade official said on Thursday. REUTERS/Kham/Files

The unusually outspoken comments were a sign of Washington’s frustration at the reluctance of China, Brazil and India -- among the most dynamic players in the world economy -- to create more market opportunities to reach a deal in the talks.

Ambassador Michael Punke said China was stalling on talks on the global trade round sought by the United States, but there were signs that Brazil and India were willing to negotiate.

“When it comes to China however we’re getting no engagement whatsoever, not even in terms of process,” he told Reuters. “We find it very hard to see how it is we’re going to be able to move forward with Doha negotiations if China is not even in a position right now to consult with its domestic industry.”

Punke’s comments added to pressure put on China on Wednesday by his boss, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

With G20 leaders expected to call in Toronto this weekend yet again for a renewed push to conclude the Doha round, his remarks highlight the difficulties in reaching an agreement.

Punke dismissed arguments by the emerging giants that they should not be asked to do more in the Doha talks, launched in late 2001, because the liberalisation round was intended mainly to help developing countries trade more.

It was wrong to consider dynamos such as China, Brazil and India, despite their millions of poor people, in the same light as the poorest countries, he said. They would be among the main beneficiaries of the global trading system after a Doha deal.


“Where are the barriers to developing country trade? The most significant ones are in the emerging developing countries,” he said, adding that 70 percent of tariffs collected by the emerging economies were paid by developing countries.

Punke also rejected warnings from other WTO members that U.S. demands could cause the current carefully balanced proposals to unravel.

“We don’t have a deal right now,” Punke said, saying that current proposals, based on the state of negotiations in July 2008 when an attempt by ministers to reach a deal collapsed, represented valuable work but were not the end of the story.

Punke said that in the last few months WTO members had held real talks in a number of groups, such as environmental goods, trade in services led by Australia, and opening up individual industrial sectors led by Japan.

“We’ve had a useful and constructive process that we’ve begun with India and Brazil. There’s a process there that gives me some hope that over time we can reach a good conclusion,” he said of the United States’ bilateral negotiations.

The United States appreciated that it would have to pay for any further concessions from its partners.

“What we’ve said is that we believe that negotiations involve a process of give and take and that we will evaluate all requests for market access from the U.S. in the context of the overall package that we’re able to achieve,” he said.

The United States is seeking more access in particular for chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, forestry products, and construction and agricultural equipment, making different requests to different countries, Punke said.

Comments by officials from the emerging powers that Washington was demanding concessions on thousands of tariff lines were misleading, he said. It had simply laid out a range of areas where it was interested in negotiating and asked its partners to indicate where it was worth holding talks, he said.

The U.S. would accept any approach that led to negotiations.

Given the time taken to negotiate and implement trade deals the United States wants to ensure the rules agreed by the emerging powers are realistic as it could be another 25 years before the next set is in place.

The current proposals would mean that India does not cut 97 percent of its industrial tariffs, Brazil could retain tariffs of over 15 percent on more than 1,000 goods and China could theoretically protect its entire car industry or most of its chemical sector from opening, Punke said.

Editing by Stephanie Nebehay/David Stamp