China is willing to help restart WTO talks but wants to see developed countries make "substantial contributions" first, a state news agency on Tuesday quoted China's commerce minister as telling a top American envoy.
Commerce Minister Bo Xilai told U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab on Monday that negotiators "should give top priority to the issue of development," the Xinhua News Agency said. The WTO's Doha round talks aim to forge a global trade treaty that would boost economic growth in poor countries by lowering barriers to their exports.
"China is willing to work with other parties to revive the Doha Round of global trade negotiations," Xinhua paraphrased Bo as saying. However, he added, "The developed members of the World Trade Organization should act first by making substantial contributions."
The report didn't give any other details of Beijing's position.
Schwab was in Beijing to press for help in restarting WTO talks that were suspended last month after the United States, the European Union and other major traders failed to agree to a plan to cut barriers to farm commerce.
"Surely now is the time for China to play a bigger role in line with its status as the third-largest trading nation," she said Tuesday in a speech to a group of American business leaders.
Schwab didn't respond directly when asked at a news conference what steps Bo said Beijing wanted developed countries to take and how Washington might respond.
"The conversation that Minister Bo and I had yesterday was, 'How can the lead players work together to develop an ambitious product that all of us can move ahead with?'" she said.
Schwab said she didn't propose specific steps for Beijing during her three-hour meeting with Bo. But she said it would be expected to offer further market-opening, on top of concessions made when China joined the WTO in 2001.
Last week, Schwab warned that the WTO talks could be stalled for years without a breakthrough in coming months.
Many WTO member nations want to complete negotiations this year so that a deal can be submitted to the U.S. Congress before July 2007, when U.S. President George W. Bush's "fast track" authority to propose a trade deal for a yes-or-no vote without amendments runs out.
A key obstacle in the talks last month was a U.S.-EU dispute over how much to cut farm tariffs and subsidies.
Asked whether Washington wanted China to help rouse pressure from developing countries on the EU, Schwab said the United States is hoping for "more open-minded countries" to speak up.
The Doha round, named for the Qatari capital where negotiations began in 2001, is meant to forge a global treaty to lower trade barriers, with emphasis on helping poorer countries boost exports.
Schwab said she also presented U.S. concerns about China's controls on its banking, insurance and auto parts industries, as well as its thriving underground industry in unlicensed copies of movies, software and other goods. She said China and Russia are the two "most troublesome" countries on product piracy.
Schwab said Washington is watching whether Beijing meets a December deadline to open its banking, insurance and other financial industries to foreign competition under WTO commitments.
The U.S. trade deficit with China hit a record high $202 billion last year, adding to strains with Washington. It is expected to exceed that this year.
Schwab said her office has created a team of officials to focus on trade with China — the only such group devoted to a single country — and plans to post a full-time representative in Beijing.