September 15, 2003
WTO negotiations end in failure
By Russell Hotten
VITAL world trade talks, designed to change the face of farming around the world, collapsed late last night amid bitter recriminations.
The development at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference in Cancún, Mexico, is expected to have far-reaching implications for global economic prospects.
The talks ended abruptly when the developing nations and the leading economies failed to agree on key issues such as agriculture. George Odour Ong'wen, a Kenyan delegate, said: "It's over."
The failure of the Mexico talks is likely to postpone implementation of the Doha Development Agenda, a road map for multilateral trade liberalisation adopted by the WTO in 2001.
Last night's collapse came despite an eleventh-hour concession by Pascal Lamy, EU Trade Commissioner, to poor nations in an attempt to stop the talks ending in failure.With the deadline ticking away on discussions, M Lamy agreed that disputed plans for rules on investment and competition be treated separately.
Disputes revolved around proposals that the WTO should set rules for investment and competition policies, on the award of government contracts and on cutting red tape and corruption that shackles trade.
The EU had insisted that all these four issues be treated together, even though many developing nations had resisted the investment and competition rules. However, a spokeswoman for M Lamy, who negotiates for the 15-nation EU, later said it would accept "unbundling of the four issues".
The WTO meeting of 146 nations had aimed to finish with a new global trade deal in time for implementation by the end of 2004. The four sets of proposals, named the "Singapore issues" because they were raised at a WTO meeting in the Asian state in 1996, were being pushed by Europe and Japan. They were resisted by a large group of poor nations, led by India and Malaysia, which feared rules on competition and investment would eat into their ability to regulate their own economies.
On Saturday all the nations did their best to portray a draft document as hurting their interests, so as not to harm their negotiating position.
Some delegates had indicated that countries were moving closer to an agreement on the key goal of reducing the subsidies that rich nations pay their farmers and lowering the tariffs many countries charge for importing farm goods. Doing so could dramatically alter farming around the world. Some farmers could find new markets for their crops. Others could struggle to compete without subsidies.
Some countries were so opposed to the proposed changes that they refused even to discuss the issues at the weekend.
**link to article: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,5-817637,00.html
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