Bad News From Geneva

Media reports from Geneva are casting doubt on there being a WTO Ministerial held before the end of the year.  This is despite the fact that APEC Leaders and G20 Leaders instructed Trade Ministers to meet.  I must say that having read the agriculture text in detail I was a bit worried about the chances of any Ministerial doing anything other than “make progress” as oppose to “finalise”” or “reach agreement on” modalities.

This report from AP is typical

The World Trade Organization appeared close to abandoning a ministerial conference this year to hammer out a new global commerce pact, officials said Monday.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy had hoped to invite top trade negotiators to Geneva from Saturday to work out the many issues hindering a deal designed to lift millions of people out of poverty and add billions of dollars to the global economy through lower trade barriers.

But senior officials from Argentina, Brazil and India said those plans were dropped during a meeting Monday at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters. They could not say if trade ministers would meet at all before Dec. 31.

The talks, which were kicked off in Doha in 2001, have suffered a number of debilitating collapses, and some diplomats, politicians and industry groups had expressed concern that Lamy was forcing through a meeting that stood little chance of success. Negotiating drafts released this weekend showed the WTO’s 153 members were divided over the same issues that scuppered the last major effort, a nine-day summit in July.

That collapse had led many to write off any short-term chances for a deal. But, prompted by the global financial crisis, 20 of the world’s industrialized and emerging economies called last month in Washington for agreement to open up trade in farm commodities and industrial goods by year-end.

“That was a political statement,” said Nestor Stancarelli, Argentina’s chief trade negotiator. “If you have to move dates, it’s not so serious.”

Stancarelli and Indian Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia said Lamy was now considering whether to call ministers to Geneva for a three-day meeting starting Dec. 17.

But wide differences among members remained, they and other negotiators said.

The United States and China were at odds over an American demand for massive tariff cuts in the global chemicals sector, while the U.S. was on the defensive over the hundreds of millions of dollars in cotton subsidies it hands out each year, officials said.

Brazil’s WTO negotiator said Lamy would now have to assess whether there was any realistic hope of a breakthrough before the end of the year. Otherwise, a ministerial meeting would be meaningless.

“People can stomach risk, but not guaranteed failure,” Ambassador Roberto Azevedo said.

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