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By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. members on Friday overwhelmingly backed negotiations on a global treaty to regulate the world's $55 billion weapons trade, but two big arms suppliers, Russia and China, refused to support the measure.
Most top arms suppliers -- the United States, Britain, France and Germany -- backed a resolution in the disarmament committee of the U.N. General Assembly that will guide negotiations on a treaty.
Only Zimbabwe voted against it, and 19 countries abstained, including major arms producers Russia, China, India and Pakistan. The resolution gained 153 votes in favour.
While a global treaty may impose stricter export controls on sales to nations that now lack them, diplomats said rogue governments and militants would likely continue to find black-market options.
Zimbabwe and the countries that abstained are mostly states that Western powers and rights advocates have repeatedly accused of human rights violations. Despite the abstentions, diplomats said most of them planned to participate in formal negotiations on the treaty, set to begin next year.
The diplomats added the decision by Russia and China to abstain showed there was less than unanimous support for global regulations based on compliance with international human rights standards among the big arms suppliers -- and indicated negotiations on the treaty would be tough.
U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to back talks on a global arms trade treaty reversed the position of the Bush administration, which had opposed it on grounds that national controls were better.
Washington agreed to join negotiations on condition the final treaty conference in 2012 be run on the basis of consensus, effectively giving the United States and all other delegations veto powers.
That angered Germany, Ireland and others, which expressed concern the result would be a weaker treaty. Diplomats said Britain persuaded Berlin and Dublin the concession was worth it to have the United States, which controls two-thirds of global arms sales, on board.
They said Washington had argued it needed to be able to block an outcome that would permit lower international standards than the strict U.S. criteria for arms sales. U.S. firms would be at a competitive disadvantage if their competitors faced less stringent criteria, the diplomats said.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)