U.S.Courts China as Trade Ally

Article excerpt

Byline: Jeffrey Sparshott, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. …