Mandelson warns boycotters to leave China alone

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The Independent Online

The European Union's commissioner for trade, Peter Mandelson, has warned that "gratuitous snubs" and "gimmicks" aimed at disrupting the Olympic Games could lead to Beijing failing to cooperate in the current round of world trade talks and the post-Kyoto discussions on climate change. He also called for a more "prudent" approach by the EU in the rush to biofuels.

Mr Mandelson said "there is no point in issuing gratuitous snubs and making gimmicky stands by boycotting the opening ceremony. It is much better to use the relationship that we have with Chinese state leaders to engage them in a proper dialogue about Tibet and human rights, while sustaining the economic and trade relationship that is so important to both of us."

Official boycotts or protests, Mr Mandelson said, "wouldn't help at all in encouraging the Chinese to take the steps they need to, whether it be in relation to their economy, their environment, their society or their politics, by our trying to turn the games into an embarrassment or even worse a fiasco... We need China to make an important contribution to meeting the climate change challenge in the world. We're not going to have a global solution without China, so we need to enlist China's goodwill and commitment to meeting those targets and bringing the changes that are required to help us resolve those issues."

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has reserved his position on whether he will attend the opening ceremony in Beijing on 8 August, and the Czech Prime Minister, Mirek Topolanek, has said he will not be there. Gordon Brown will attend the closing ceremony, to formally receive the torch for the London games.

Mr Mandelson said "I don't support boycotts", but added that attendance at the festivities was a matter for member states. He did not know whether the president of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, would attend.

The commissioner's immediate priority, however, is to see the Doha round of trade talks, which began in 2001, come to fruition. He put the chances of success at "around to 55 to 60 per cent", and says that agreement has to be reached "this year or not at all", because 2009 will be a "dead year". A change of incumbent in the White House and a "change of personnel" and a fresh mandate in the EU next year would effectively rule out any progress. By 2010, the original mandates would have been completely overtaken by events and would be "stale".

"The last big political argument we're approaching is not on agriculture, assuming the US makes a firm and improved offer which President Bush has said they will do... It will be over industrial tariffs and whether the emerging economies will reduce their tariffs and create new market access to match the openings in agriculture."

"Without any doubt" a trade agreement would help to restrain spiralling food prices. Mr Mandelson also felt there needed to be a more "prudent" approach to biofuels. He warned that Europe should not pursue a policy framed "simply to meet the needs of producers who want to find a new market for their produce, switching to fuel from food".

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