Farm Tariffs Sink World Trade Talks; India, China Want 'Safeguards'

Article excerpt

Byline: David M. Dickson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

For the fourth time in five years, global trade talks collapsed Tuesday, dealing what could prove to be a fatal blow to the nearly seven-year-old Doha round of negotiations.

Negotiators met for nine days in Geneva, home of the World Trade Organization (WTO), where talks collapsed in a cloud of acrimony after India and China refused to budge from their demand for the right to impose special import safeguards.

We were so close to reaching a deal on Friday night, U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab said Tuesday.

The safeguards demanded by India and China would have allowed them to sharply raise their import tariffs on agricultural products, especially rice, sugar and cotton, in response to a surge in imports. Since the purpose of the Doha round was to allow poor countries to develop by exporting farm products, the demand for safeguards by India and China violated the spirit of Doha, food exporters insisted.

That was all it took to derail the talks.

Because the scope of overall trade liberalization ... was so constrained at Geneva, there wasn't much on the table when countries began demanding exceptions, explained Jeffrey Schott, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington

As a result, when India and China demanded special safeguards, there was a sense they were pulling off the table more than what was on it.

China isn't interested in liberalizing, said Peter Morici, a University of Maryland professor who was chief international economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission during the Uruguay round, the last multilateral trade agreement reached in 1994. He described China's economic policy as state-directed, big-city mercantilism that ignores the plight of Chinese farmers.

I'm not risking the livelihood of millions of farmers, said Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath, who is known as Dr. No in international trade circles.

By refusing to concede to the Indian and Chinese demands, Mr. …