BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The European Union's top trade official said Tuesday he would ''push back hard'' against a global trade deal that would give China more time to shield its economy from foreign imports.
A draft World Trade Organization agreement would offer China up to 15 years before it had to obey all trade liberalization rules.
China was offered special treatment because it only joined the WTO in 2001. However, the world's most populous nation is different from many other emerging economies because it is a major exporter that has won sizable market share for its goods in Europe and the United States.
EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told the European Parliament's trade committee that an additional grace period for China to cut tariffs and allow more foreign competition went too far.
''I cannot support such wide flexibilities for China as a newly acceded WTO member. We will push back hard on this,'' he said.
Mandelson said European companies saw it as ''absolutely crucial'' to win more access to booming economies such as China, Asia and Latin America if EU governments were to back the deal unanimously.
''Europe has never insisted on full reciprocity. But these markets are now strong enough in key industrial sectors to be direct competitors for Europe.''
He said the draft deal would allow some new market access and would potentially limit these countries from sheltering entire sectors from imports.
Mandelson said the prospect of a deal was now more important then ever because the global economy faces uncertainty and public doubts are rising about globalization.
''We would be securing the multilateral trade system for the future, locking in the current levels of openness in the global economy, stopping tariffs from rising in future if a wave of protectionism should follow a global downturn,'' he said.
European businesses have complained that global trade talks are failing to deliver hoped-for export opportunities by slashing trade barriers across the world.
Subsidies to farmers and tariffs on imports in wealthier nations -- and barriers to manufacturing imports in major developing nations such as China, India and Brazil -- have been at the heart of the stalemate in the WTO's long-struggling Doha round of trade talks. The talks were launched in 2001 with the goal of adding billions of dollars to global commerce and lifting millions of people worldwide out of poverty.
For consumers around the world, a successful trade agreement could mean cheaper groceries and manufactured goods.
Any global deal must be agreed on by consensus and will be legally binding on all countries. Those failing to live up to their commitments could be hauled before the WTO's dispute body, where billions of dollars in sanctions can be awarded.