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Suspension of Trade Talks 'a Setback to All'
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The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said yesterday that the indefinite suspension of global free trade talks is a setback to all members of the World Trade Organization (WTO).


The Doha Round of negotiations is critical to a balanced and orderly development of the world economy, said ministry spokesman Chong Quan.


"We will work with other sides and try to resume negotiations as soon as possible," he said.


He made the remarks after the trade talks, seen as a once-in-a-generation chance to boost growth and ease poverty around the world, collapsed following nearly five years of haggling because of wide gaps between key players. Resumption of talks could take years.


WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy suspended the negotiations Monday after talks among six major members broke down. Ministers from Australia, Brazil, the EU, India, Japan and the US had met in Geneva to try to follow up on instructions from the St. Petersburg Summit of the Group of Eight industrial nations on July 17.


Lamy told heads of delegations in the informal meeting that he would recommend a "time out" to the General Council tomorrow. He did not suggest how long the talks would be suspended.


They can only resume when progress can be made, which in turn will require changes in entrenched positions, he said. The suspension will apply to all negotiating groups.


EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson later accused the US of "stonewalling" by refusing to offer deeper cuts in US trade-distorting domestic farm subsidies, which total about US$20 billion annually.


Brazil, India and Japan joined in the criticism after the meeting failed to resolve long-standing differences over how far to cut farm subsidies and tariffs.


But Washington responded saying it hopes the EU's "blamesmanship" would not jeopardize the "few chances we have left" for reviving the talks.


Li Zhongzhou, a WTO expert, said the ongoing Doha talks were largely blocked by disagreements over agricultural market access, reduction of agricultural subsidies, and industrial trade.


To make breakthroughs, he said, the US and the EU should offer to substantially reduce domestic subsidies and import tariffs. China believes special treatment should be given to developing countries to encourage them to continue with negotiations, he said.


The suspension of the talks is expected to lead to the further rise of bilateralism around the globe, he added.


(China Daily July 26, 2006)


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