Monday, November 14, 2005

Failure acknowledged before the Ministerial Conference

Hopes of a global trade deal are under threat after ministers failed to iron out key differences ahead of a crucial World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting.

Talks between WTO officials in London and Geneva have ended in stalemate and now December's talks on cutting barriers may have to be scaled back.

US trade chief Rob Portman expressed pessimism ahead of the Hong Kong talks. "I'm sorry to report we have not been able to make the progress I would have liked to have made," Mr Portman said. "We've been able to bridge some differences but we have not been able to come up with the formulas and modalities for the Hong Kong meeting."

His sentiment were echoed by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson who said the talks had succeeded "not in narrowing differences but in defining them". "The gap is significant."

Sticking points

WTO ministers have now downgraded their expectations of securing a major breakthrough at the WTO summit in Hong Kong starting on 13 December. They had hoped to approve a framework accord to reduce trade barriers, as demanded in the Doha round of talks. Now they predict that another conference would be called by March to make up lost ground.

"This round does extend through 2006," said US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

"It would be a grave mistake to declare this round at an end at the Hong Kong meeting," Mr Johanns said.

However, some progress was made this week when the US and China agreed a deal on textile imports. The deal follows months of wrangling over the soaring level of Chinese clothing imports into the US. Earlier in the year, the EU and China agreed limits on textiles imports.

Building bridges

The international community had aimed for a free trade deal by the start of 2006 but reform of farm subsidies remains a major sticking point. Developing countries such as Brazil and India argue that farm subsidies in wealthier nations - the US and the EU in particular - depress global farm prices and prevent farmers in poorer nations from prospering. Poorer nations have dismissed trade offers from the US and EU as being insufficient, with the EU coming in for particular criticism.

"As far as the European Union is concerned, I feel that we have done everything we could reasonably be expected to do in agriculture to build bridges," said Peter Mandleson. Brazil has resisted stepping up talks on trade in products and services until the farm question is settled.

"If there is not a good deal on the table for developing countries then it is better for there to be no deal at all," said Peter Hardstaff of the World Development Movement.


It is nice to have an apology after the many conferences that the delegates have held. Only one has the balls to step out and tell the critics that they (the delegates for the Ministerial Conference) have are going to fail them.

The poor’s lives are in the hands of people who dress and dine in opulent manners whose responsibilities at a IMF/WTO conference is to read aloud materials produced by their employee. How in tuned are these delegates with the lives of the common people?

How long more do we have to put up with this show of ambivalence?

It is time for us to make a stand.
We are the voices of the people who cannot speak.
We will take this to the streets of Hong Kong, this December.
We, a body of people with different backgrounds will stand united to fight this devil called poverty.

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