Trade Talks End in Sudden Collapse

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.

Ben Lilliston is the communications director of the Institute
for Agriculture and Trade
Policy
.

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