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Trade Talks Collapse Disappoints Africans

African countries say they are deeply disappointed by the collapse of the Doha Development Round. They are calling for an early resumption of the failed talks to address fair trade issues that are critically needed to get Africa out of poverty. Lisa Schlein reports from WTO headquarters in Geneva.

The Doha Development Round collapsed after nine days of marathon talks. Ministers from 30 countries are divided as to who is to blame for the failure. But, they are united in expressing regret about, what they call, a missed opportunity.

Among them is the bloc of African countries. Speaking on behalf of the group, Kenya's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Uhuru Kenyatta, says African countries are disappointed with the outcome of the negotiations.

He notes most of the key issues of interest to the African continent were not even discussed, especially that of cotton. Nevertheless, he says it is important to keep the promise of Doha alive.

"It is not necessary to start apportioning blame or finger pointing as to who should bear the responsibility of this situation," he said. "The critical issue now before us is to focus on how fast we can move to capture and preserve whatever progress that have been realized in a number of important issues in the negotiations. This should be our starting point when these negotiations resume."

Kenyatta says the Doha Development agenda is directly linked to economic development and poverty alleviation. He urges the members of the World Trade Organization to remain engaged so the round can be concluded without further delay.

"Our position is that Africa critically needs to realize development and get itself out of poverty through the establishment of fair trade rather than aid," he added. "Africa's opportunity to achieve fair trade has therefore been gravely undermined by the lack of progress in these negotiations."

International trade negotiators agree many important concessions and compromises were made in an effort to achieve a package of trade agreements.

The United States rejected demands by China and India to allow developing countries to protect their farmers from import surges by wealthier countries or from a drop in prices. The two emerging powers insisted that poor countries be allowed to impose higher tariffs as a safeguard measure.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab says a so-called safeguard mechanism to remedy surges in imported agricultural products already exists. She says these demands were unnecessary and would have led to markets being closed rather than opened.

"The irony, of course, is that all of this debate about how easy or how hard it should be to raise barriers to food imports took place in the context of a global food crisis when the last thing we should be talking about and negotiating or even thinking about is raising barriers to trade in food," she said.

Schwab says Washington stands by its offers, including a reduction in U.S. farm subsidies, and if other countries respond to them in a meaningful way, then a deal eventually could be struck. She says the Doha Development Round is the way forward and it is important to restart the negotiations as soon as possible.