Haggling hashes WTO talks right outside hope’s door

Geneva, July 30:

It was the haggling over nuances of the Doha deal that stuck in the gullet, and the most troubled round of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation here to liberalise global commerce collapsed last night over differences between the US and India just as it seemed that patient diplomacy had paid off.

Part of the problem was WTO itself. It has 153 members and no deal is possible unless all of them agree. Tension between the developing and developed world was evident ever since the talks started, but it became clear over the past nine days that there were splits among developing countries too. In the end, negotiations broke down under their own complexity.

The last two of the three main components of talks — liberalisation of trade in services, agriculture and industrial goods — were crucial. Washington and Brussels knew they would have to accept deep cuts in the support they provide for farmers: in the case of the European Union, some subsidies deemed most trade-distorting would have been cut by 80 per cent. In return, the West wanted better access for its manufacturers to the fast-growing emerging economies. After much haggling, leading developing nations led by Brazil agreed to a formula that would have meant average cuts of more than 50 per cent in industrial tariffs.

Under the formula crafted by WTO director general Pascal Lamy countries would have been able to identify some ‘special products’ which would not be subject to cuts in protection. The sticking point, however, proved to be the special safeguards mechanism (SSM), which would allow countries to increase tariffs in the event of a sudden surge in imports.

A DPA report said delegation members said talks on the Doha round could be renewed in autumn after China, India and the US failed to agree on farm import rules. US representative Susan Schwab accused China and India of undermining the hard-fought compromise package, saying the US had made great concessions especially in regard to cutting its cotton subsidies.

Many poorer developing countries, however, supported the Indian-Chinese stand saying that in light of the still enormous numbers of India’s and China’s poor agricultural and food security in these countries should not be weakened by cheap imports.

Worldwide dismay

GENEVA: World trading powers appealed on Wednesday for salvaging the talks that collapsed after nine days of hectic parleys.

•“I urge WTO director general Lamy to treat this as a pause, not a breakdown; to keep on the table what there is,” Indian commerce minister Kamal Nath said.

•Economic superpower America shared emerging economy India’s dismay and regret even as both stuck by unreconciled positions on import tariffs and SSM.

“It is distressing for us that we find ourselves without an agreement,” US trade representative Susan Schwab said.

•“This is a tragic failure,” Chinese commerce minister Chen Deming said.

•Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda voiced regret while pressing for developing nations to be ‘responsible’.

•German agriculture minister Horst Seehofer regretted the ‘lost opportunity’ and called for talks to continue.

•EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said the failure was ‘heartbreaking’ as it was due to a single element in a package of proposals.

•Brazil’s foreign minister Celso Amorim, a key broker in the talks and a frank spokesman for the developing world, hailed the rise of poor and emerging economies at the negotiating table.

•African countries which had hoped to tackle issues such as poor countries’ cotton and banana exports were inconsolable. “We can hardly control our anger,” said Burkina Faso’s tade minister Mamadou Sanou.

•Kenya’s trade minister Uhuru Kenyatta, speaking on behalf of an African grouping, said the collapse ‘gravely undermines’ the fight against poverty.

•“Intensely disapointing,” said New Zealand trade minister Phil Goff in a statement, adding, “A difference of opinion between the US and India over SSM could not be resolved.” — AFP