China Makes Thinly Veiled Swipe At U.S. In Urging Continuation Of Doha

China in a high-level World Trade Organization meeting late last month blamed the deadlock in the Doha round negotiations on “major members” of the WTO who have been unwilling to seriously participate, and made a thinly veiled jab at the United States for not even mentioning the WTO on its trade office's homepage.

“The challenge we are facing is not about mandate or framework,” China said in a Nov. 20 statement at a heads of delegations meeting, which was posted publicly on Dec. 4. “The real challenge is some major members are unwilling to participate in the [Doha Development Agenda] negotiations,” it added, reiterating its argument that the Nairobi ministerial must not mark the end of the Doha round -- as members like the U.S., EU and Japan have called for.

China also seemed to put the U.S. trade agenda in the cross-hairs of its criticism, saying that it is “discouragingly surprised to see that, one major founder of this Organization has quietly deleted the information related to WTO and Multilateral Trading System on its Government website.”

“What is flaring in the homepage is the eye-catching Mega-Regionals and plurilateral agreements,” the Chinese statement added.

When accessed mid-day on Dec. 4, the homepage of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative did not contain a direct link to information on the WTO or the Nairobi Ministerial, but heavily featured regional trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, as well as the WTO plurilateral Environmental Goods Agreement.

To access WTO information on the USTR website, one must select the “Issue Areas” drop-down from the homepage banner, then select “Trade Organizations.” On that page the WTO is listed alongside links to pages with information on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Obama administration has presented TPP as the alternative to China “writing the rules” for trade in Asia, while at the same time holding open the possibility that China could accede to the deal in the future. It has also argued that regional trade deals can reinvigorate the multilateral trading system, although some critics argue that mega-regionals have sapped energy and urgency from the Doha round. Other experts have seen TPP as an effort to contain China's economic influence in the region.

China, in its statement, argued that an “an overwhelming majority” of WTO members support continuing the Doha agenda in its present framework. It listed the African Group; the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group; Recently Acceded Members; Least-Developed Countries and “other developing members” as supporting the continuation of Doha. It also said giving up on Doha “will deal a severe blow to Africa.”

“One billion African people have earnest expectation for [the Nairobi ministerial] which should deliver on development, and deliver for Africa,” it said. “If DDA is ending in failure at MC10, how can we tell our African brothers and sisters that ending DDA is a success for MC10?”

Its reference to developing members may be an allusion to a Dec. 2 joint proposal forwarded by China, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Venezuela, which includes language aimed to ensure the Doha round continues after Nairobi in its current form. The African Group proposed similar language on the same day.

Members are divided over whether language on continuing the Doha round under its current framework should be featured in the Nairobi Ministerial declaration, and a facilitator's draft proposal unveiled on Nov. 27 which did not contain such language has added fuel the controversy.

China argues that the leaders of WTO member-countries have “clearly instructed” that the Doha agenda be concluded by adopting the United Nation's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which includes food security and global partnership and sustainable development as two of its goals which seemingly overlap with certain aspects of the Doha agenda.

Because of this, giving up on the Doha agenda would be in defiance of instructions laid out by the highest government officials in WTO member-countries which China alleges would amount to an “abuse of power” on the part of WTO ministers.

China concluded their statement by invoking an “ancient Chinese saying” to stress the importance of including in the Nairobi declaration language to continue work on the Doha agenda, “when a bird's nest is overturned, no egg can remain intact. This is a matter of to be or not to be.”

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