BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s trade chief Peter Mandelson said on Wednesday the United States helped to bring down global trade talks this week when its negotiators shunned a compromise proposal at a key juncture in the talks.
The United States hit back and accused the EU of having tried to undo a carefully crafted set of compromises because it was under fire from European governments including France.
The proposal in question was drawn up by the EU on Tuesday in a last-gasp bid to unblock an impasse over an agricultural trade issue being discussed by seven powers at the centre of the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks.
Mandelson initially declined to point fingers, calling the collapse of the talks a collective failure. But his frustration at Washington was clear in a weblog he wrote on Wednesday, describing the events of the previous day when the talks failed.
“...when WTO chief (Pascal) Lamy reconvenes the Group of Seven negotiators at midday, the Indians and the Chinese express reservations and the U.S. rejects the proposal outright, much to Lamy’s understandable frustration,” Mandelson said.
“It seems that the issue on which we have diverged is more important for some than agreement as a whole. Instead of reaching out for help to solve the problem, they are digging in,” he said.
After that, a U.S. official “simply does not show up” when negotiations resume and U.S. trade chief Susan Schwab, heading into the finale of the negotiations, stopped off in the press room “to get her rebuttal in first,” Mandelson wrote.
“The session that follows is tense and angry and Lamy does not allow it to go on for long,” he said.
“It is bad enough to be facing defeat in the last mile of such a marathon. It’s worse to realize that some of the people across the table, instead of working for success, are in reality preparing for failure.”
“The EU’s anger is misdirected, misguided and being misused,” said Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman for Schwab.
The trade official who missed the resumption of negotiations was in consultations with Schwab at the time, she said.
“To deflect from their own domestic concerns, the EU self-appointed their own official to renegotiate something that had already been agreed upon.”
Hamel was referring to compromise proposals drawn up by Lamy on Friday in a bid to save the talks and which several of the WTO powers, including the EU and the United States, accepted as a way to take the negotiations forward.
The seven-year Doha negotiations have been dogged by differences often over the degree to which big developing countries such as China, India, Brazil or South Africa should open up their markets in farm and industrial goods.
Tuesday’s breakdown after nine days of tense negotiations was over rules allowing developing countries to erect temporary barriers to foreign food products in the event of import surges.
The United States feared the new rules would close off markets for its farmers, who also faced a lower limit on their subsidies under another part of the planned WTO deal.
In an interview with Reuters, Mandelson said Washington’s demand that its farmers get new market access in return for less subsidies had hindered the Doha round, launched in 2001 to help poor countries develop, especially in agriculture.
“The dollar-for-dollar approach does not add up in any way,” Mandelson said. “Yes, there has to be balance, yes there has to be reciprocity, but in a development round a dollar-for-dollar approach is never going to stack up.”
Writing by William Schomberg, editing by Paul Taylor