Bush blamed for collapse of trade talks

The Bush administration faced blame from U.S. trading partners on Monday for the collapse of world trade negotiations, but won praise at home for holding firm in the talks.

European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson accused the United States of "stone-walling" by refusing to offer deeper cuts in U.S. trade-distorting domestic farm subsidies, which now total about $20 billion annually.

"Surely the richest and strongest nation in the world, with the highest standards of living, can afford to give as well as take," Mandelson said.

Brazil, India and Japan joined in the criticism after a weekend G6 meeting in Geneva failed to resolve long-standing differences over how far to cut farm subsidies and tariffs. Australia also took part in the weekend talks.

The impasse, after nearly five years of negotiation, prompted a decision to "suspend" the talks, increasing the chance a final deal will never be reached.

The negotiations, officially known as the Doha Development Agenda, were launched in late 2001 with the goal of helping poor countries prosper from trade.

U.S. officials said other countries were not offering deep enough farm tariff cuts to persuade Congress, which has the final say in the United States over trade deals, to significantly cut farm subsidies.

"The stuff on the table at Doha would never have been approved by Congress," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Senior U.S. lawmakers reinforced that view, saying they were not interested in a deal that fails to significantly open global markets.

"The United States is willing to change its domestic agriculture policies, but American farmers demand equal access to markets on the world stage," House of Representatives Majority Leader John Boehner said in a statement.

Washington contends that the biggest benefit of a new world trade deal would come from cutting tariffs that block developing-country exports, as well as its own.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab has accused the EU and others of "pocketing" an offer the United States made last year to reduce farm subsidies and pushing for deeper U.S. cuts without offering significant new market access in return.

"Ambassador Schwab was right to hold firm and accept nothing less than real concessions. I commend her for her resolve," said Sen. Max Baucus, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, expressing the view of many lawmakers.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, said he hoped the setback on Monday would force Brussels to rethink its position.

Leading U.S. business groups also praised Schwab’s tough stance, but said they hoped the talks could be revived.

Schwab told reporters by phone from Geneva the United States was prepared to offer deeper farm subsidy cuts, but withheld that offer when it become apparent others were unwilling to move.

The United States will explore ways to "resuscitate" the world trade talks in meetings with other trading partners in the coming weeks and months, she said.

At the same time, it’s unlikely a deal can be completed and submitted to Congress before U.S. trade promotion authority expires in mid-2007, Schwab said.

© Reuters 2006