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'India, China not to blame for collapse'

European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson says the talks failed due to difference between the US and developing countries over an eminently resolvable issue.

world Updated: Jul 30, 2008 11:27 IST

India and China are "certainly not" to blame for Tuesday's collapse of world trade talks in Geneva, European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said.

"This failure was not inevitable. This was an eminently resolvable issue," a sombre-looking Mandelson said in a television interview after the talks collapsed over differences between the US and developing countries on mechanisms to protect small farmers from sudden surges in imports.

Asked if he blamed India and China for the collapse of the talks, Mandelson, who negotiates on behalf of the European Union, told Britain's Channel 4 television, "certainly not."

He said that negotiations foundered on a "relatively small issue covering an infinitesimal part of global trade."

"I feel very sorry success has eluded us Wednesday night," he added.

The talks broke down over the inability of the US on the one side and China and India on the other to agree a compromise on a proposal called the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM).

However, several commentators have refused to see it as a US vs India and China issue - Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath said India had the backing of at least 100 developing countries over its stand on SSMs. Under the proposal, countries would be allowed to erect tariffs over and above currently-agreed limits on certain farm products in order to protect their farmer's livelihoods from sudden surges in cheap imports of those products.

According to reports, talks collapsed over numbers. The US is reported to have proposed that countries should only be allowed to increase duties under SSM when import surges crossed 40 per cent over an agreed base period.

But India argued that this "trigger" should be much lower - at 15 per cent, when it felt the livelihoods of farmers would be threatened.

Analysts say Kamal Nath's strong position over SSM stands to reason and should not have come as a surprise - he has argued for many months and in a variety of forums that India would not accept any agreement that went against the interests of the country's small farmers, whose numbers he puts at 600 million.