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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 11: 99: Battle for Free Trade
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Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 16:45 GMT
WTO talks falter
The WTO in Geneva has failed to find common ground

WTO members have failed to agree an agenda for the next round of trade talks, just one week before the ministers are due to gather in Seattle.

The battle for free trade
After three months of intense negotiations, the135 countries meeting in Geneva have had to admit that efforts to hammer out an agenda and even a common statement have failed.

Lamy fears the talks could stall
While the US wants to concentrate on agriculture and services, the European Union wants other issues such as competition and investment rules to be considered.

The biggest sticking point is agriculture. Many countries want the European Union to drop many of its subsidies to farmers which they say distort trade.

We might not leave Seattle with a new round
Pascal Lamy, EU Trade Commissioner
The EU's argument is that agricultural subsidies are necessary to support rural economies and protect the environment.

"It is now going to be very difficult for the ministers in Seattle," US trade ambassador Rita Hayes had said earlier.

European trade commissioner Pascal Lamy said: "I fear the atmosphere might be such that we will not get to the starting blocks...We might not leave Seattle with a new round."

EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler said: "We are on a knife edge. What comes out of (preliminary talks) in Geneva does not permit the launch of a round ( of talks) in good conditions."

World trade to surge

Meanwhile, WTO has forecast a strong recovery for world trade this year.

The volume of world trade is set to grow by six or seven per cent in the year 2000, the WTO has forecast.

The surge in trade is attributed to the faster-than-expected recovery from the Asian crisis and the strong growth in the US economy.

Senior WTO economist Michael Finger said: "We have seen in the course of 1999 already a steady acceleration and we project that this will continue."

Trade is expected to grow this year between 3.5% and 4%, in contrast to nearly flat growth in 1998.

The strength of the Asian recovery, in part driven by strength in the electronic sector, surprised WTO forecasters. They cautioned that while output had grown, structural reforms were not yet complete.

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See also:
17 Nov 99 |  The Economy
Trade talks deadlocked
20 Oct 99 |  The Economy
World trade talks could stall
25 Oct 99 |  The Economy
Trade talks agenda 'agreed'

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