Geneva: World Trade Organization (WTO) talks entered their ninth day as a stand off between India and China on one side and the US on the other threatened to derail efforts to reach a global accord liberalizing commerce.
Progress in the negotiations ground to a halt on Monday as the US accused the two nations of refusing to open their fast-growing markets to foreign competition and snubbing a compromise on agriculture and industrial goods.
One of the main sticking points is the trigger for special safeguards, which would enable developing countries to raise farm tariffs to protect their farmers in case of a surge in imports.
“There is a real threat to the delicate balance that we achieved on Friday night, and I’m very concerned that it will jeopardize the outcome of this round,” US trade representative Susan Schwab told journalists in Geneva on Monday. “There’s a real risk because those countries are advocating selectively reopening the package.”
WTO director general Pascal Lamy and trade ministers from seven key governments that together represent 80% of global commerce resumed meeting on Tuesday in a bid to resolve the impasse.
India and China refuse to accept key elements of a compromise put forth by Lamy three days ago and refined by ministers over the weekend, according to the US.
India never endorsed the proposal and China is now “backtracking” in its support, Schwab said. Under Lamy’s proposal, when imports of an agricultural product rise 40%, duties can be imposed — a level India says is too high to protect its farmers.
India wants the threshold set at 10%, a position supported by 100 developing nations that are concerned about the future of their farming industries in light of rising food prices, according to commerce minister Kamal Nath.
China also dismissed the US criticism, saying it’s made concessions that demonstrate its commitment to a global trade deal and willingness to compromise.
“We have tried very hard to contribute to the success of the round,” WTO ambassador Sun Zhenyu said on Monday. It’s the US’ rigidity in areas such as sensitive products and trade-distorting farm subsidies that is impeding the talks, he said.