Chinese complaints increase doubts over Doha accord



Complaints from China have added to growing doubts over whether a global accord can be reached at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), diplomats said on Friday.

China , which joined the WTO in 2001, added its voice this week to growing discontent among developing powers over the slant of the Doha talks on industrial goods, which have emerged as one of the trickiest areas of six-year-old negotiations.

Launched in Qatar with the aim of dismantling barriers to trade and helping poor countries export more, the Doha round talks have struggled to overcome many countries' reluctance to expose sensitive markets to foreign competition.

Beijing threatened to "veto" or "block" any revised compromise text from the chairman of the industry talks, Don Stephenson, that imposes tougher tariff-cutting requirements on China than other recently acceded WTO members.

This drew a stern response from the European Union which said the Chinese stance could "spark off political reactions" in the negotiations that require consensus among the WTO's 151 member states for a deal to be reached, diplomats said.

Stephenson , Canada 's ambassador to the WTO, had planned to update his July negotiating paper later this month to narrow the range of proposed cuts to the maximum tariffs both developed and developing countries are allowed to impose.

But he has delayed issuing that revision because parallel WTO negotiations in agriculture -- considered by many the key issue in the Doha talks -- were taking longer than expected.

Many developing countries are looking for better offers of access to U.S. and European farming markets in return for accepting cuts to their highest-allowable tariffs on textiles, steel, car parts and other manufactured goods.


Brazil has said emerging nations will not accept a WTO deal that is slanted in favour of the rich world, where politically influential farmers are resisting cuts to price-distorting subsidies on corn, dairy, soy and cotton, and other farm goods.

No new date has been set for the release of Stephenson's revised text. In the meantime, negotiators are set to keep meeting in small groups to plough through remaining issues including rules on customs procedures, labelling and testing.

The latest burst of talks has skirted the most contentious part of the industrial goods talks -- the size of tariff-ceiling cuts to be required under a Doha deal.

Negotiators have focused instead on the amount of sensitive goods they can continue to shield under Stephenson's proposal, which would bind import duties at a lower level in rich nations than in poorer ones, where tariffs tend to be higher on average.

Diplomats said the new complaint from China, which had previously not voiced much opposition to the talks, added to a growing sense that the last several weeks of intense negotiations had yielded few tangible results.

Stephenson told the industrial goods group that he had seen "no movement in members' positions" and "little progress on all fronts," making a substantive revision to his text difficult.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has warned diplomats not to push the Doha talks into 2008, when the U.S. presidential election will make it hard for Washington to negotiate.