- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman yesterday declared global trade talks “deadlocked” and blamed the impasse on Europe’s insistence on protecting its farmers.

“The once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real progress in economic development hangs in the balance. The responsibility is on the European Union,” Mr. Portman told The Washington Times from Geneva.

The 148 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 formally began the Doha round of trade talks, named for the city in Qatar that hosted the first meeting. The goal of the talks was to reduce barriers to trade, such as industrial tariffs and agricultural subsidies, as a way to boost world economic growth and help the poorest nations prosper.

Negotiations collapsed in 2003 over differences on farm trade. They were restarted in 2004 and appeared to be gaining momentum after the United States offered to cut some of its farm subsidies by 60 percent.

In return, the Bush administration wanted countries including France, Japan, Brazil and India to permanently lower tariffs that keep U.S. rice, wheat and other products out of their markets.

Mr. Portman yesterday said Europe had failed to make a “serious proposal” to open its market.

“It was discouraging,” he said after a hard day of negotiations.

France, in particular, has tried to rein in Peter Mandelson, trade commissioner for the 25-nation European Union. France called an emergency meeting Tuesday to warn Mr. Mandelson not to overstep his authority during negotiations.

Mr. Mandelson emerged from the meeting with support from the EU’s governing council, the European Commission, but yesterday France again warned him not to offer too many concessions on farm trade.

“As things stand, France … cannot support the commission in the agriculture proposals it has made,” said French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde.

Mr. Portman said the French government, if it didn’t “come around,” could be responsible for thwarting a trade deal designed to help developing countries.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” he said.

Mr. Mandelson, meanwhile, said that Europe would show more “flexibility” when talks resume today in Geneva. But he also emphasized the importance of other countries opening their markets to Europe.

“I must honestly say to my colleagues: Europe urgently needs to start seeing more clearly the benefits the Doha round will offer in trade in industrial goods and services. Without balance, it will become increasingly difficult to convince EU member states that the process is delivering,” Mr. Mandelson said.

Negotiations resume today among some of the WTO’s biggest players, including the United States, European Union, Brazil, Australia, Japan and China.

The countries are under pressure to reach a broad agreement in time for a mid-December WTO summit in Hong Kong.

Without progress, negotiators fear, the talks could falter, leading to a watered-down agreement or, worse, another collapse.

“This means we are under severe pressure of time — we must now think in terms of days rather than weeks. We have a huge amount of work to do in very little time,” said Pascal Lamy, the WTO’s director-general.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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