Sydney, August 7 :

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson today accused Australia of siding with the United States in stalled global trade talks and said he would not attend a special conference called by Canberra next month.

Mandelson said Australia, which has singled out the European Union for criticism, should play a more balanced role in the faltering World Trade Organisation (WTO) Doha trade round.

The global trade negotiations were suspended last month, amid a bitter dispute between Europe and the United States over farm tariffs and subsidies.

“At the moment we hear from some quarters of the Australian government a lot of bashing of Europe,” Mandelson told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio. “Until we see everyone, all the negotiating partners, being asked to table and to demonstrate some sort of flexibility, we’re really going to be no further forward.”

Trade Minister Mark Vaile rejected Mandelson’s criticism and said Australia was an ‘honest broker.’ “We have suggested that both the European Union and the US need to move to make compromises to find some common ground so we can get this deal done,” said Vaile.

He has proposed the US cut its farm subsidies by a further $5 billion and the EU reduce its tariffs by a further five per cent. WTO chief Pascal Lamy suspended the Doha round last month when the world’s major trading powers failed to reach a compromise at last ditch talks in Geneva.

The major protagonists, particularly the United States and EU, have bitterly traded blame for the collapse of talks, each accusing the other of inflexibility.

Australia is a close ally of US president George W Bush’s administration and last week Vaile lashed out at the EU for not doing enough to open its agricultural markets.

The 25-nation bloc has offered to cut farm tariffs by 51 per cent, but Vaile said they were set so high that such a move would ‘make very little difference.’ The comment appears to have irked Mandelson, who is a former British minister and a close friend of prime minister Tony Blair.

“If we had as much messaging to the US on the farm subsidies as we in Europe hear from Australia on market access in agriculture, then I think Australia’s approach will be considered a bit more balanced,” he said.

He called on Canberra to push Washington to ‘show some realism on farm subsidies.’

The Doha Round was supposed to dismantle worldwide barriers in agricultural and industrial trade and use commerce to give developing countries a boost. It was meant to yield a trade treaty by the end of 2004 but the target was progressively put back to the end of this year. Few believe that deadline will be met.

Australia hopes to break the deadlock, and has invited Mandelson, Lamy and US negotiators to an extended meeting of the 18-member Cairns Group of agricultural exporters in September.

Mandelson welcomed the invitation, but said the meeting was ‘not a priority’ for the EU, as it was not a member of the group.

“The EU will nonetheless be represented in some way but I will not be able to go myself,” he said. Vaile has said the meeting in Cairns is the last hope of salvaging the Doha round this year.

Mandelson disagreed. “There will be many more meetings, many groups, many dialogues and many encounters,” he said.