Trade Talks End in Sudden Collapse


| September 2003


It seemed like just another dry briefing from U.S. negotiators on the status of the trade talks. U.S. negotiators are highly skilled at talking a lot, but saying very little. At the end of the briefing -- where reporters were told that following agreement on the Singapore issues talks would turn to agriculture -- a reporter asked the reps whether they had any comment on Kenya?s quick decision to pull out of the talks. The U.S. negotiators seemed surprised and immediately pulled out their cell phones in unison.

Walking out of the press room and into the caf? area of the Convention Center there was an immediate buzz. TV cameras scrambled as impromptu press conferences popped up in between tables and chairs with government delegates. Quickly information came flooding out. Over 30 countries had walked out over the Singapore Issues -- new areas of negotiation that would have expanded the WTO?s authority to cover Investment, Competition, Government Procurement and Trade Facilitation.

A half hour later the news was confirmed, the WTO talks had collapsed. Applause and spontaneous singing by NGOs from around the world erupted throughout the Convention Center.

While the Singapore Issues were the clear sticking point, the problems with these negotiations are much more complex. Throughout the negotiations developing countries were continually excluded from the process and their concerns were not reflected in the draft text put forward yesterday morning. Over 90 WTO countries had expressed their clear objection to the inclusion of the Singapore issues in the text. When the draft text included three of the four Singapore issues it caused an outrage among developing countries.

The Singapore Issues are being pushed primarily by the EU, with the support of the U.S., in hopes to help multinational service indutries such as energy, water and banking -- among many others -- to enter previously protected markets. Developing countries didn?t want negotiations to expand into these new areas because there was still much work to do on Agriculture ? and there is strong evidence that the WTO system is not working for them. Until the system demonstrates clear evidence that it is improving lives for people in those countries, they did not want to move forward to expand the WTO.

There is now an opening with the WTO for real negotiations. The US and the EU must take developing country concerns seriously. And perhaps finally understand that the corporate agenda -- which drove the Singapore Issues and the Agriculture negotiations -- is not working, and improving the lives of people must be the ultimate goal of the WTO system.