World Trade Organization talks collapse

Tuesday, 29 July 2008, 07:00 Hrs
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Geneva: World Trade Organization (WTO) talks on the conclusion of the Doha round broke off Tuesday after nine days amid differences over opening of agriculture markets pitting the U.S. on one side and India and China on the other.

Delegation members said the talks could be renewed in the autumn after some 40 ministers were unable tie up a compromise package aimed at liberalizing global trade after China, India and the U.S. failed to agree on the farm import rules.

"The talks have taken a very disappointing turn," said U.S. trade representative Susan Schwab, while German delegation leader Berndt Pfaffenbach said: "It came as a surprise, and we failed to finalise things today because of major differences which did not stem from Europe."

The talks launched seven years ago in Doha were seen as crucial to future world trade - aimed as they were at remedying inequality so that the developing world could benefit more from freer trade.

The European Union earlier Tuesday had appealed to delegations to find an agreement, with EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson warning of a "terrifying prospect" if the talks were to fail.

His appeal came as opinions appeared to be divided among the WTO parties over the issue of opening of agriculture markets, which had appeared to have been resolved in a compromise reached last Friday.

The row escalated when India and China refused in particular to further open their agriculture markets, not wanting to entirely weaken the applicable mechanisms protecting their farmers.

The two countries, saying they are speaking for some 100 developing countries, argued for a customs arrangement to protect farmers in poor countries against excessively high food imports.

Amid the impasse, Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said nobody wanted the current WTO talks to be broken off, while Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim urged the WTO participants to shoulder their political responsibility.

The differences have pitted the U.S. on one side and India and China on the other.

US representative Schwab accused the two countries of undermining the hard-fought compromise package, saying the U.S. had made great concessions especially in regard to removing its cotton subsidies.

Some WTO representatives however sympathized with the two developing countries, saying that in light of the still enormous numbers of poor that China and India have to care for, agricultural and food security in these countries had to be strengthened, not weakened by cheap imports.

A large portion of poorer developing countries supported the Indian-Chinese position.

The Doha Round, named after the Qatari capital where it began in November 2001, has been deadlocked for years. The impasse can be broken only by unanimous agreement between all 153 member countries.

Almost 40 ministers from all the major trading blocs had been negotiating in Geneva in what has been described as a last-ditch attempt to break the deadlock.
Source: IANS
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