WTO talks enter tense endgame

Talks to rescue a world trade deal struggled into a ninth day on Tuesday after being brought back from the brink of collapse over measures intended to help poor countries protect their farmers against import surges.

Ministers said they would try to find ways out of the impasse, but warned failure was a real possibility.

“If people don’t want this deal, there’s no better deal coming along and we just have to consider, if this fails, what they will lose,” EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told reporters on his way into the negotiations.

Trade officials said the talks aimed at salvaging the seven-year-old Doha trade round were nearly scrapped on Monday as the United States clashed with China and India over access to their rapidly growing markets, especially in food products.

Negotiators dug in their heels on the details of a “special safeguard mechanism” which would allow poor nations to protect their farmers against any import surges in agricultural products such as rice.

The proposal also pits developing farm exporters like Paraguay and Uruguay against other poor nations who are worried about their farmers’ survival, especially in Asia.

Indonesia’s Trade Minister, Marie Elka Pangestu, said the issue of protecting developing country farmers could sink the round. “If there are things in there that we feel are not part of a development round then we have to consider,” she said.

Nine European Union states—a third of the total and including EU heavyweight France—demanded better terms for the bloc, adding to concerns that a painstakingly assembled package of compromises that rescued the negotiations last week could disintegrate.

France has warned that a final deal based on the current proposals might be rejected next year by European capitals.

French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said India was seeking to protect its agriculture while the United States wanted new markets for its crops, notably cotton.

“And we in France and Europe say: ‘Stop, we can’t just open the floodgates and leave the next 14 years to the Chinese to prepare themselves as if they were an emerging country,’” Lagarde told France Info radio.

Top trade officials from about 30 key WTO members have been in Geneva since last Monday to try to agree on a range of terms for cutting farm subsidies and tariffs on agricultural and manufactured goods, the core of the WTO’s Doha round.

The negotiations for a global deal trade to lower export barriers were launched in 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks on the United States, in the hope of boosting the world economy and helping poor countries. - Reuters

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