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WTO talks collapse after developing nations block EU agenda
K R Sudhaman in Cancun | September 15, 2003 10:02 IST
Last Updated: September 15, 2003 11:07 IST
The world trade talks collapsed on Sunday after 100 odd developing and least developed countries blocked the European Union and United States agenda to bring in new issues including, investment rules and competition policy into the World Trade Organisation work programme after bitterly fighting over agriculture, loaded heavily in favour of developed countries in the draft declaration.
After working hard and constructively to make progress, the talks ended without any declaration as more work was needed to be done in some key areas, a ministerial statement issued at the end of the failed five-day ministerial said.
In those areas where a high-level of convergence on texts was reached, "we undertake to maintain this convergence while working for an acceptable overall outcome," the one-page statement said, adding a meeting of the General Council of WTO at senior officials level will be convened before December 15 to move towards a successful and timely conclusion of the negotiations.
Analysts say this was one of the biggest defeat for trade liberalisation since a chaotic meeting at Seattle in 1999 when the ministerial failed after the United States and European Union tried to thrust labour standards and environment, considered to be non trade issues by developing countries into the work programme of WTO.
"Nothing has been agreed at this conference and it was not clear how the future declaration could take place," analysts said, adding there was a success in failure in the sense it has helped developing countries forge a formidable alliance on the contentious Singapore and agriculture issues.
The collapse had taken many including, India by surprise as developing countries had nearly succeeded in extracting a major concession shelve three of the four the Singapore issues, investment, competition policy and transparency in government procurement into the backburner.
Now the Singapore issue is not dead, analysts said, adding the ministerial has, however, brought developing countries concerns into the centre-stage of the multilateral trade negotiations.
After clashing over agriculture for the entire five days of the ministerial, the WTO talks died when developing countries particularly from the Africa and Latin American and least developed countries refused to discuss the Singapore issues saying all the four issues should not come into the work programme of WTO.
"We have always alerted people that unless they listen to the developing countries ... this is what will happen," Malaysia's Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, who along with India spearheaded the G-16 alliance of developing countries that has now swelled to 29, said.
With the 146-member WTO coming out with a heavily loaded draft declaration in favour of EU and US on Sunday, there was a lot of haggling and what is called green room process with limited number of trade ministers starting to narrow down the difference.
When participants, who decided to take up the Singapore issue first, could not arrive at a consensus, the chairman of the ministerial, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez decided to close the meeting without a declaration.
WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi told reporters that there was "no hiding the fact that the deadlock was a "setback". He said he was disappointed but not downhearted.
"It is important to ensure the negotiations are put back on track. If the Doha Development Agenda fails, the losers will be the poor of the world," he said, adding he would work hard for a successful outcome.
Derbez concluded that members have to clear from the lack of consensus that business as normal will not succeed and that some soul searching is needed. He blamed part of the deadlock on a failure to move away from rhetoric.
The EU and US negotiators complained that India, Brazil and other key developing countries had brought more rhetoric than proposals to the negotiating table.
However, India, Brazil, China and other major developing countries turned the table on them saying lack of concern for development issues of the third world particularly on agriculture which failed to address the livelihood concerns of millions of poor farmers led to the collapse.
EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said he did not want to beat around the bush. "Cancun has failed. This is not only a severe blow for the World Trade Organisation but also a lost opportunity for all of us, developed and developing countries alike."
"We would all have gains. We all loose. We will not play the blame game and we will remain open to reviving this process." he said.
Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley said, "We all had come here really with the hope of getting a good deal. But the draft declaration which came out after three-and-a-half days of negotiations did not properly reflect the aspirations of the large number of countries both in agriculture and Singapore issues. This was perhaps the reason for consensus eluding the conference."
If his predecessor Murasoli Maran had single-handedly fought the might of developed countries at Doha, it was Arun Jaitley who was responsible for galvanising developing countries which have formed two formidable groups to voice their concerns in agriculture and Singapore issues.