Global Free Trade Negotiations Collapse
GENEVA (AP) — Negotiators came tantalizingly close but failed to clinch a global free trade deal after more than a decade of talks that could have given the world economy a $1 trillion boost, the head of the World Trade Organization said Tuesday.
Roberto Azevêdo said diplomats from the WTO's 159 members tried hard but "cannot cross the finish line here in Geneva" ahead of a summit where ministers were to have signed the deal in Bali, Indonesia next week.
He said more progress was made in the past weeks than over the past five years, but that was still not enough.
"Over the last few days, we stopped making the tough political calls. And this prevented us from getting to the finish line," he told a news conference. "We are indeed close, but not quite there."
The negotiations would have eased the rules of global commerce by cutting red tape to open markets and help develop poorer economies. They also focused on tariff quotas, government incentives for exports and agriculture issues such as subsidies for grain stockpiling.
But disputes between major economies such as the U.S., European Union, China and India bogged down the discussions. The Bali summit has been cast as a last chance to revive the so-called "Doha Round" of WTO-brokered talks that began in Qatar in 2001 and frustrated Azevedo's predecessor, Pascal Lamy.
The diplomats became deadlocked over the details and there remains so much disagreement that several more weeks of negotiations could not close the gaps, he said.
"Holding negotiations in the short time we'll have in Bali would be simply impractical with over 100 ministers around the table," he said.
The lack of a global trade deal has not prevented individual countries from making deals among themselves. The EU, for example, has clinched free trade deals with South Korea and later Canada. It is in separate talks with the U.S. and Japan as well.
But Azevedo said the failure to reach a global deal leaves poorer countries worse off and hurts the WTO's credibility. The WTO will only be viewed as a trade court and no longer as a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements.
"We will fail not only the WTO and multilateralism," he said. "We will also fail our constituencies at large, the business community and, above all, the vulnerable among us. We will fail the poor worldwide."
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