No new agenda for WTO

10 December 1999

No new agenda for WTO

THE World Trade Organisation failed to launch a new agenda for global free trade negotiations in the coming years, after four days of talks in Seattle collapsed late last week.

But diplomats will renew discussions on agriculture reform early in the New Year, in fulfilment of one of the terms of the last GATT round.

In the five years since those talks ended, agriculture has lost none of its sensitivity, and disagreements over future export subsidies and aid payments to farmers helped trip the launch of the "Millennium Round".

For European farmers the failure means that EU negotiators face fresh discussions in Geneva, but without all the non-agricultural issues to deflect attacks on the CAP. And, despite claims by EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, that these new talks will start with a clean slate, he will not be able to undo all of the concessions offered in Seattle.

"Much was done and that work will not be lost," said the organisations director general, Mike Moore, putting a brave face on the result.

"We made substantial progress in agriculture," agreed Dr Fischler, "but clearly some key questions remain unsolved."

The final text, before the meeting was abandoned, had gone as far as calling for reforms "in the direction of the progressive elimination of export subsidies" and "substantial progressive reductions" to domestic supports.

In return for these "concessions", the EU was looking for recognition of subjects such as environmental protection and animal welfare.

"These non-trade concerns must be taken into account, and we cannot concede on that point," said Fischler, adding the condition that the blue and green box categories of subsidies remain. Without them, the EUs system of direct aid payments could be open to attack.

Officially, talks were suspended, with plans to return next year once diplomats in Geneva have attempted to reconcile more of the differences. Poorly prepared, Seattle negotiators found themselves with an impossible amount of ground to cover in the time available. Many blamed the handling of talks by the US.

"Thanks WTO," read a shop sign in downtown Seattle last weekend, "it was a riot." &#42

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