By Jonathan Lynn
GENEVA (Reuters) - China has dismissed U.S. comments that Beijing is blocking a new trade agreement, saying that it was the United States that was stalling progress in the World Trade Organization's long-running Doha round.
The angry comments, by China's ambassador to the WTO, indicate how difficult it now is to bridge the gaps in the Doha talks, launched in late 2001, because of differences between the United States and big emerging economies, foremost China.
"Everybody knows what the real reason for the deadlock of the Doha round is and where the main political obstacles come from," Sun Zhenyu told Reuters on Sunday.
"The U.S. is the sole member who insists that we're still far away from the conclusion of the round. Their new excessive request on an elevated level of ambition is in fact equivalent to a restart of the round and a flagrant deviation from the original negotiation mandates."
WAR OF WORDS
Frustration on both sides has now boiled over into a public war of words, making a deal even harder, a fact recognized by leaders of the G8 countries, who include the United States but not China, when at their summit in Canada on Saturday they dropped a commitment to complete Doha this year and simply renewed a pledge to conclude an agreement.
Sun was responding to comments by his American counterpart, Michael Punke, the U.S. ambassador to the WTO.
Punke told Reuters in an interview on June 24 that the talks were stuck because of a refusal by China and other big emerging economies such as Brazil and India to open their markets.
The United States says that the big emerging countries have benefited from the global trading system and will also be the sources of much future growth. They therefore have a duty to open their markets to create new business opportunities not just for rich nations but also for other developing countries.
It says that China, now the world's biggest exporter, has clearly gained enormously from joining the WTO in 2001, when it made big cuts in tariffs and opened its markets.
But Punke said China had not responded to U.S. requests for detailed one-on-one negotiations, although there were signs of hope that Brazil and India would take part in talks.
He said the United States recognized that serious negotiations involved give and take, indicating that Washington was ready to pay for new concessions from its partners.
But Sun said that the United States was trying to reopen what had been agreed over the past eight years by making new demands on developing countries to open their markets without saying what it would give in return.
"The blame put on China, Brazil and India is nothing but a red herring to distract people's attention from the real problem," he said.
If the United States really wanted to make progress in the talks, it could address a number of contentious issues, he said.
It could cut its trade-distorting agricultural subsidies, especially cotton, from $15 billion, cut "tariff peaks" on sensitive goods that keep out developing country imports, comply with WTO rulings condemning its controversial method of calculating anti-dumping duties, known as zeroing, and let in more temporary workers for services from health to construction.
Sun said China was negotiating actively in the Doha talks and under current proposals would cut its agricultural and industrial tariffs by about 30 percent, as well as opening several new service sectors to foreign competition.
China had repeatedly called at the G20 for a Doha deal to help the world recovery, but a deal had to benefit developing countries, not the interest of one rich WTO member, he said.
(Editing by Charles Dick)