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US, Europe Trade Accusations as Key WTO Issues Founder


Europe's chief trade official has lashed out at his fellow trade negotiators, accusing them of not putting forward any acceptable offers at global talks taking place in Hong Kong. But the United States and other countries are criticizing Europe for ignoring a chorus of demands on its farm policies.

European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson was short - but not sweet - in describing U.S. negotiators at the World Trade Organization meeting on Friday. "They're not even at first base," he stated. "That's the problem we have."

Mr. Mandelson is leading one of 149 delegations at this week's WTO meeting here in Hong Kong. The United States is joining many less-developed countries in pressuring Europe to open up its agricultural markets.

Mr. Mandelson accuses the United States of adopting "tactical" rather than "realistic" negotiating positions. European negotiators say the United States and other wealthy countries must do more to reduce the export subsidies that distort trade.

Developing nations, which form a group called the G-20, want the EU to set a firm deadline for the end of its own export subsidies. Mr. Mandelson complains that the G-20 countries are unwilling to open their markets to European manufactured goods and services in return.

"Brazil made it absolutely clear to me on at least three occasions last night," said Mr. Mandelson. "It would lead to no movement or concession or other offer by Brazil or the G-20 in any other part of the round. None! None! Absolutely none."

U.S. negotiators say Europe has so far failed to match a proposal Washington made in October to slash U.S. subsidies.

Jill Gerber is at the talks representing U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, a key figure in Washington's trade policy. She said Senator Grassley is warning Europeans that President Bush will soon have less flexibility to close a deal with them.

"Keep in mind that trade promotion authority is not guaranteed," she said, "and it seems several participants at these talks don't particularly appreciate the very heavy Congressional role in trade agreements."

Mr. Bush's fast track trade negotiating authority expires in 2007, and would have to be renewed by a Congressional vote. Senator Grassley says Washington may push harder for regional and bilateral trade deals, if this week's talks fail to produce a positive outcome.

The United States may also place greater emphasis on agreements within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Group, or APEC, an organization that accounts for 48 percent of world trade - and does not include Europe.

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