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The BBC's Paul Reynolds
"Something of a disaster for the World Trade Organisation"
 real 28k

Keith Rockwell, WTO spokesman
"The progress made here will not be lost"
 real 28k

Paul Reynolds in Seattle
"A failure here wraps up a disastrous week for the WTO"
 real 28k

Saturday, 4 December, 1999, 16:08 GMT
World trade talks collapse
Anti-WTO demonstrations Anti-WTO protests continued on the final day of the talks

Talks between ministers at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Seattle have ended in failure after countries were unable to agree an agenda for a new trade round.

The battle for free trade
US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky, who chaired the talks, told the BBC that the WTO had outgrown its current method of gaining agreement by consensus.

Many other delegates leaving the negotiations - between representatives of 135 nations - agreed with her.

The talks were extended for hours beyond their scheduled close on Friday night before Ms Barshefsky decided the cause was hopeless, saying there was no "feeling of consensus".

She said members had agreed that it would be best to have a break from the talks and to "consult with one another and try to find a creative means to finish the job".

Charlene Barshefsky Charlene Barshefsky: brought talks to end
The Canadian trade minister, Piette Pettigrew, said they would probably try to bridge their differences again next year in Geneva.

Many delegates said the agreement the WTO had set itself four days to reach was an impossible one - and there were swift recriminations.

A senior official from Zimbabwe, expressing a general view among the developing nations, said the failure was a good thing.

It's the beginning of the blame game
A Canadian delegate
Africa, he said, had stood firm on its threat - also made by the Caribbean nations - not to sign any text it disagreed with.

Non-governmental pressure groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth also celebrated the collapse of the talks.

Sticking points

Agriculture has been a sticking point, with the European Union being pressed to make deeper cuts in its food export subsidies than it was prepared to accept.

Some EU officials privately blamed the looming US presidential election for the host nation's failure to give ground.

Labour standards also proved extremely contentious. The US and EU wanted some discussion of issues such as child labour in the WTO.

But a BBC correspondent in Seattle says poorer nations thought this was intended to undermine the competitive edge they derived from lower wages.

It would be best to take a time out
Charlene Barshefsky
With its member countries split numerous ways Ms Barshefsky said that it had become clear there was no chance of all sides agreeing to an agenda for the new trade talks.

Instead it is likely that meetings of smaller groups of nations, or trading blocs, will take place next year in an effort to resolve outstanding concerns.

Such meetings had taken place ahead of Seattle, but had failed to settle disputed issues such as farm subsidies.

Decisions hard to make

It has not been a good year for the WTO, whose members failed to agree earlier this year on who should be its new director general.

It was only after months left leaderless that a compromise deal was reached whereby the two favoured candidates would share the job by doing half a term each as director general.

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See also:
04 Dec 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
WTO tarnished by Seattle failure
01 Dec 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
Seattle trade talks timeline
04 Dec 99 |  Business
Anti-WTO protesters claim victory
03 Dec 99 |  Business
The waiting game
03 Dec 99 |  Business
Farm fight follies
02 Dec 99 |  Americas
Eyewitness: The Battle of Seattle
02 Dec 99 |  Business
WTO tackles the internet
02 Dec 99 |  Americas
Seattle police tactics under scrutiny
23 Nov 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
Free trade flashpoints

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