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WTO Warns Collapse of Talks Threatens Global Trade - 2004-07-20


The World Trade Organization says an agreement to restart the new round of global trade talks must be reached by the end of July.

The World Trade Organization says living standards around the world would be improved by the eventual outcome of global trade liberalization talks. Members failed to to reach agreement at a ministerial meeting last year in Cancun, Mexico, mainly because of wide differences over state subsidies to farmers.

The WTO's 147 members are meeting now to see if they can bridge the gap and salvage the so-called Doha Development Round. WTO Director-General, Supachai Panitchpakdi, says the members have been presented with a compromise, and urged the governments to adopt it. "Consequences would be that people would be less interested in the multi-lateral actions and I do not think that people will walk away from this institution or this organization, but there would be less interest in working on this multi-lateral negotiations that certainly would not be easy to revive as we have done after Cancun. Certainly, within the foreseeable future, there would be a replacement of interest coming from various bilateral and regional exercises that might supersede the interest of this round," he said.

WTO spokesman, Keith Rockwell, says governments have already made significant concessions. He says the European Union, the United States and 10 other wealthy countries have agreed to stop subsidizing farm exports, which have a damaging effect on farmers from developing countries who cannot compete on world markets with subsidized produce.

In return, Mr. Rockwell said, the developed countries are asking the poorer countries to open their markets for industrial products and services. "On non-agricultural market access, it is critical that we get an agreement on an interim agreement if you will. It is critical we get agreement in the next 11 days because we will not get an agriculture agreement if we do not get something on the industrial side," he said. "As I said earlier, that is the price that the rich countries are demanding in exchange for curbing or abolishing trade distorting subsidies."

Mr. Rockwell says a failure of this round of talks would essentially mean the loss of three years of hard negotiation and raise the possibility a final agreement on trade liberalization would be lost for the foreseeable future.

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