- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

CANCUN, Mexico — Rich and poor countries fought to a stalemate during world trade talks yesterday, all but killing hopes for a global trade deal by the end of next year.

“It’s not a walkout. It’s a collapse,” said George Ong’wen, a delegate from Kenya.

“It’s over. It’s done,” said Richard Bernal, chief technical adviser for Caribbean countries.

Trade ministers from 148 nations have been meeting here since Wednesday to hammer out a document that would set the stage for a final deal by the end of next year.

A “good” World Trade Organization agreement would boost world economies by $520 billion and lift some 144 million out of poverty over the next 12 years, according to the World Bank.

The Bush administration set as a priority a document to ease the way for trade in farm goods, manufactures and services, but had to walk away yesterday empty-handed.

“Whether developed or developing, there were ‘can do’ and ‘can’t do’ countries here. The rhetoric of the ‘won’t do’ overwhelmed the concerted efforts of the ‘can do,’” Robert B. Zoellick, U.S. trade representative, said in a statement.

Rich and poor nations assigned blame to each other for the collapse.

Nations as diverse as Brazil, Benin, China and Chad formed a series of alliances to demand special treatment that would help their economies advance. Those countries ruled out new regulations, so-called Singapore issues, that would have eased the way for multinational companies to invest, send goods across their borders and allow bids on government contracts.

“I would say Singapore was the most important reason [the talks ended],” said Martin Redrado, Argentina’s trade minister.

When asked if talks could resume later in the day or in the coming weeks, he said, “In this environment I don’t see a possibility in the near future.”

Developing nations this week appeared to enjoy a new sense of power as they allied, stuck to their demands and then finally snubbed the United States, European Union and other rich nations.

“Not only were we able to keep our unity, we were a dominant actor in the negotiations,” said Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister and one of the most prominent leaders of developing countries.

Delegates met formally and informally through the night Saturday and until early afternoon yesterday, making some headway toward conciliation on crucial agriculture issues. Agriculture was the single most-discussed, most-important and originally the most-difficult issue.

A group of more than 20 countries including Brazil, India and China — called the G-21 — demanded that the United States, European Union, Japan and other rich countries stop financially supporting their own farmers, a practice that can lower world market prices.

But other matters scuttled the talks.

“Today we stalled because of the Singapore issues. But the larger lesson of Cancun is that useful compromises among 148 countries require a serious willingness to focus on work, not rhetoric, to attain the fine balance between ambition and flexibility,” Mr. Zoellick said.

Before the start of the meetings, Mr. Zoellick said a collapse of WTO trade talks would mean a new emphasis on bilateral and regional agreements, a sort of “coalition of the willing” for trade.

He mentioned the importance of advancing trade on multiple fronts yesterday, adding that he doubted the current WTO round would end on time.

The business community is likely to press the Bush administration to look elsewhere for markets.

“I think we’re going to turn to Washington and say we want [free trade agreements],” said Frank Vargo, a vice president with the National Association of Manufacturers, a District-based business group that represents U.S. companies. Mr. Vargo was in Cancun as an adviser to the U.S. trade delegation.

The Bush administration recently concluded deals with Chile and Singapore, and is negotiating agreements with five countries in Central America, five in southern Africa, and Australia, Morocco and Bahrain.

Another major trade agreement would be the Free Trade Area of the Americas among 34 nations in the hemisphere, though any meaningful deal would appear to be in jeopardy because the United States would have to reach an agreement with Brazil.

Anti-globalization groups had been active in Cancun all week, sometimes working to support developing countries, sometimes simply at odds with anything the United States or European Union did or said.

As delegates from Africa, Latin America and other regions left government-only areas of the Cancun Convention Center to spread word of the collapse, those groups allowed in the center cheered.

“The good news is that the massive expansion of the WTO was halted,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizens Global Trade Watch, a group founded by Ralph Nader.

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