Brazil decries "unfair" U.S. stance in trade talks

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States is being “unfair, unreasonable and irrational” in its approach to global free trade talks, a top Brazilian official said on Wednesday.

Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Roberto Azevedo, hitting back at U.S. accusations that tough demands by developing countries stood to derail a new World Trade Organization (WTO) pact, said poorer nations were being backed into a corner in the nearly six-year-old negotiations.

Azevedo said Washington and its wealthy allies were trying to force the developing world to accept tariff cuts on industrial goods proposed by a WTO mediator in July, while at the same time tinkering with parallel proposals on slashing rich-country farm subsidies and tariffs.

“The U.S., the EU, the other developed countries are picking and choosing the provisions of the agriculture text they can live with. On the other hand, they are asking the developing countries to take the (industry) text as a ‘take it or leave it’ business which is frankly unfair, unreasonable, and irrational,” he told reporters in Geneva.

“I can imagine that what they are essentially trying to do is put the blame on the shoulders of others if the round doesn’t go forward,” he added.

The United States signaled last month that it was ready to accept the range of agricultural subsidy cuts suggested in July by farm talks chairman Crawford Falconer, who called the U.S. move a “significant” step toward completing the Doha round of talks, which were launched in Qatar in November 2001.

But Azevedo said it remained unclear how much developed nations were willing to cut the subsidies and tariffs that make it hard for poorer farmers to compete in global markets for products such as cotton, rice, soy, and corn.

“With the level of uncertainty, with the level of ambiguity that we have in agriculture today, it is impossible for us to tell if we can live with what is in the (manufactured goods) text,” he said.

Developing powers such as Brazil and Argentina are looking for greater access to new food export markets in return for exposing their industrial markets to more competition under a Doha pact, which would also cover trade in services.

Many fear opening their manufacturing sectors too quickly could put fledging industries at risk and cause big job losses.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Washington said developing countries’ reluctance to accept the range of tariff cuts proposed by WTO industry talks chairman Don Stephenson in July “could signal the end of the Doha Round”.

Azevedo nevertheless said Brazil was willing to keep pushing toward consensus among the WTO’s 151 member states.

“We are still optimistic. We are still trying to work. We are trying to negotiate within reasonable boundaries,” he said. “We are ready to negotiate on all fronts, in all areas, all the time, right up until the end.”