Hewitt urges last-minute deal on world trade

NEGOTIATORS WERE working into the night to prevent opposition by both rich and poor countries from scuppering a deal to open up world markets.

NEGOTIATORS WERE working into the night to prevent opposition by both rich and poor countries from scuppering a deal to open up world markets.

Ministers from the 147 members of the World Trade Organisation were locked in talks over a deal that would form the basis for detailed negotiations on a new global agreement.

But a final draft triggered accusations by poor countries and anti-poverty campaign groups of a "stitch-up" by rich nations.

Countries were set a "drop dead-line" of midnight last night to agree a framework for negotiations - although hopes of wrapping it up on time were fading. Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said it was "most unlikely" a deal would be done before today. "But I am hopeful that we can agree on a framework across the WTO before the end of the weekend," she said.

She urged countries to sign up to an agreement despite mounting rumours of opposition from some of the world's poorest countries. "I hope that over the next 24 hours everybody will bear in mind that if we do not get a negotiating framework in place now, then work will stop for the next six to nine months," she said.

The US presidential elections in November and a reshuffle of European Commission portfolios in the autumn mean the world's two most powerful trading blocs will be without a trade chief until next year.

Ms Hewitt added: "We cannot guarantee that we will be able to pick up where we would have left off here."

Supachai Panitchpakdi, the head of the WTO, told reporters: "A number of delegations saw improvements, but I have to admit it hangs in the balance."

Ministers were handed a final draft yesterday morning by WTO officials who had worked overnight on Thursday to incorporate proposals by five of the world's most powerful trading blocs aimed at tackling the key issue of farm subsidies.

The 20-page blueprint called for the elimination of farm export subsidies and sets out other principles for reforming agricultural trade - a key demand by developing countries.

It also laid down guidelines for opening up business in industrial goods and services and for launching negotiations on a customs code, as the richer countries would like.

But the wording has run into criticism from both France, which says it goes too far in cutting farm aid, and from developing nations angered by a lack of progress in meeting their demands.

Observers at the WTO's Geneva headquarters said France had reaffirmed its objections to a deal that would see the elimination of all export farm subsidies during a four-hour meeting of European ministers.

However, France lost the support of Italy and Germany, which voiced its support of the plan ahead of the UK, which has traditionally been the most vocal advocate of reform.

Pressure groups said developing countries were angry that their concerns over issues such as market access and subsidies for cotton had not been taken on board.

Moussa Faye, a Senegalese campaigner with ActionAid, said African countries were angry that the contentious issue of cotton subsidies had been wrapped into agriculture.

The US pays $3bn a year in aid to its cotton farmers and countries such as Burkino Faso that cannot compete with subsidised American cotton are demanding reform. "There is no specific commitment to deal with cotton and that's not good enough," Mr Faye said. He said that "logically" West African nations should block the deal. "But the WTO operates in secret and there's a lot of pressurising and arm-twisting," he said.

Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam's Geneva office, said the deal on offer was "unacceptable" for poor countries. "The text on agriculture does little to address the problem of export dumping, instead introducing dangerous loopholes for yet more subsidies from the US."

Consumers International, a lobby group, accused the rich countries of extending a clause that grants them protection against challenges to farm payments under WTO rules. The protection was meant to expire this year. "It is a licence for the big powers to break the rules," Robin Simpson, its senior policy adviser, said. "We call for immediate clarification."

Meanwhile Kenya and other members of the G90 group of poor states are resisting demands by rich countries that they should sign up to new rules on customs and import procedures aimed at stamping out corruption.

The issue, known as trade facilitation, was one of four so-called "new issues" that contributed to the collapse of the last major WTO summit in Cancun, Mexico, last autumn.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
News
people
Extras
indybest
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

BA/PM,EMIR/Dodd-Frank,London,£450-650P/D

£450 - £650 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Senior Analyst - ALM Data - Banking - Halifax

£350 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Analyst, ALM Data, Halifax, ...

Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/day

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/d...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash