China to WTO: free trade food no more?

By Guest Columnist Jul 30, 2008

by Joyce Li Finally, some progressive-positive press for our Olympics host? In an unlikely move, China shifted its position on high food tariffs, joining India in an unbreakable partnership that yesterday, broke down the world trade talks in Geneva. The Times writes:

Food prices have soared around the globe in recent months, particularly for rice, and many countries with a food surplus have imposed limits on exports to retain supplies for their own populations. China has become increasingly focused on making sure that its farmers can continue to produce most of the food needed for the 1.3 billion people in that country, and leery of having to rely on imports.

Both powers refused to budge on the matter, ending the talks to the dismay of the U.S, EU, and Japan. India and China have frequently disagreed over trade principles, even while both are targeted as the foremost emerging markets by developed nations. Kamal Nath, the Indian trade minister, tells AP that "the vulnerability of poor farmers can not be traded off against the commercial interests of developed countries." Ideally, the attempt at compromise would have:

let poor countries sell more produce to rich countries while giving the U.S., 27-nation EU and Japan new chances for their manufacturers and service providers in the emerging markets of Brazil, China and India.

Participating countries harbor a general fear of the major powers losing interest in the talks, especially amidst administration changes following the Bush presidency. The fall-through in negotiations will undoubtedly shift power within the WTO; we’ll have to see what new alliances come out. – Joyce Choi Won Li