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WTO talks collapse
Monday, September 15, 2003

CANCUN, Mexico, (AFP) -- Campaigners and lobbyists yesterday blamed an insistence by rich countries on pushing their demands against the will of developing nations for the breakdown in WTO trade talks here.

Oxfam, the international relief agency, said it took "no delight in this failure," calling the failure of the five-day World Trade Organisation meeting a "missed opportunity".

"Rich countries over-played their hand and misjudged the strength of feeling and unity of the developing world, who want to make trade fair and have a stake in global prosperity," it said in a statement.

Ministers of the 146 WTO member states had gathered in this Caribbean beachside resort in an effort to bridge differences that have so far held up progress toward a new trade liberalisation pact.

But divergences, especially over cutting farm subsidies and tariffs and on whether the WTO should embrace new rules on investment and competition policy, have cast a long shadow over the meeting.

Around the time the conference was officially due to close here yesterday, reports began emerging that the talks had collapsed, mired in difficulties too rigid to narrow.

Friends of the Earth International said developing countries had refused to accept EU demands to liberalise investment, competition, transparency in government bidding processes and trade facilitation.

"As a result of their refusal and the European Union's intransigence, the talks have collapsed," the group said in a written statement.

But it welcomed the clout mustered by developing countries, which account for about two-thirds of the WTO's membership, in making themselves heard.

"Despite intense pressure from the business lobbies, and bullying by the European Union and the US, developing countries have stood their ground,"said Ronnie Hall of Friends of the Earth.

"This is a great development for people, small businesses and the protection of the environment," he added.

Public Citizen, based in the United States, said the collapse had made evident the WTO's "ever-growing crisis of legitimacy" after the United States and the European Union "stubbornly rejected" the demands of the majority of WTO members.

The United States had not represented the interests of most Americans at the conference, but rather large corporations, it asserted.

It called the result a victory for global civil society and developing countries, describing the conference as "Seattle-on-the-beach", in a reference to the 1999 WTO talks in Seattle that likewise failed.

Oxfam signalled that the Cancun meeting was a turning point for global trade negotiations.

"On paper, this meeting has failed, but the new power of developing countries, backed by campaigners around the world has made Cancun a turning point," Phil Bloomer said.

"In the past, rich countries made deals behind closed doors without listening to the rest of the world. They tried it again in Cancun.

"But developing countries refused to sign a deal that would fail the world's poorest people."

WTO members launched the current round of trade liberalisation talks in the Qatari capital Doha in November 2001.

It had been scheduled to wrap up by January 1, 2005 with a new global pact outlining new free trade rules in farm products, services trade and industrial goods.


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