- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

The Bush administration’s top trade envoy yesterday said he wants China, a rising economic power often portrayed as a U.S. rival, to take a greater role in global trade talks.

“I think they can play a more active role, and I think they should,” U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said of China’s participation in the current round of negotiations among the World Trade Organization’s 149 members.

Mr. Portman, in Beijing on one leg of a three-continent trip to shore up economic ties and sound out his counterparts on the WTO talks, said China ought to more actively help forge a compromise between divergent factions — especially the European Union and developing nations.

The WTO negotiations, initiated four years ago, have stalled as countries fight over how much to reduce farm subsidies and lower agricultural tariffs. The U.S. is offering to reduce payments to farmers but in return wants the 25-nation European Union to make substantial cuts in its programs and open its market to more products from around the world.

Europe, hemmed in by France and other countries that want to protect domestic farming, has rejected the U.S. offer.

As positions have hardened, officials have scaled back expectations for a mid-December meeting in Hong Kong that is supposed to strike a broad, though not final, agreement on new global trade rules.

Mr. Portman said China and the U.S., despite conflicts over some policies, have common interests in making the ongoing trade round a success. China, in particular, would benefit from new export opportunities.

But Mr. Portman cautioned that a compromise would have to include the biggest concessions from Europe.

“My compromise wouldn’t be lowering [ambition on] tariff [cuts],” he said.

China, since joining the WTO in 2001, has played a low-key role in the WTO, and it is not clear whether the country will become more active.

It is a member of the so-called Group of 20, which is led by Brazil and India and includes other developing countries demanding an end to rich-country farm subsidies. But China has not been publicly outspoken in pushing a particular agenda.

The Bush administration is hoping that a more outspoken China would side with the U.S. against Europe on key trade issues.

“[Bush administration officials] are looking for allies and are hoping some countries will be supportive of the positions they have taken,” said Nicholas Lardy, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics, a Washington think tank.

Mr. Lardy said China could use its weight as the world’s third-largest exporting nation, after the U.S. and Germany, as well as its experience as a developing country that has followed liberal economic policy to strong growth, to help sway the talks.

Despite the call for a more active role at the WTO, Mr. Portman also criticized China for policies that have harmed U.S.-China relations.

“China must open up more to our exports and investment,” Mr. Portman said yesterday.

“China must also act vigorously to address intellectual property infringement. This was raised at every one of my meetings today.”

The Bush administration, prompted by American companies that make products ranging from software, music and movies to batteries, drugs and car parts, has repeatedly complained that China counterfeits U.S. goods.

The U.S. trade representative’s office earlier this year estimated U.S. losses from piracy of copyright materials, such as business software, ranged between $2.5 billion and $3.8 billion annually.

China’s response has not assuaged the increasingly frustrated administration.

“It’s time to crack down,” Mr. Portman said.

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