No hope of trade deal, warns Lamy

Brussels attacks 'medieval' WTO; Rich nations called intransigent; UK blamed for not restraining EU
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The Independent Online

There is virtually no hope of tying up a global trade deal on time before the end of next year, the European Union's chief negotiator warned yesterday as bitter recriminations began to fly over the collapse of the negotiations on Sunday night.

The EU attacked the "medieval" World Trade Organisation and, together with the United States, blamed some developing countries, who in turn attacked the intransigence of the world's two largest economic blocs.

Meanwhile some British pressure groups laid the blame at the door of the British delegation at Cancun, led by trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt, for not restraining the EU's demand for new rules to govern foreign investment - the issue that finally brought down the talks.

Pascal Lamy, the EU's Trade Commissioner, said last week's talks in the Mexican beach resort of Cancun would have had to have settled half of the agenda to have any hope of meeting the 1 January 2005 deadline.

"Our target was 50 per cent, the result was 30 per cent - you can draw conclusions yourself on the date," he said. "Let's not beat about the bush - Cancun has failed. The Doha round is not dead but it needs a lot of intensive care".

The issue will now go back to the committees of the WTO's Geneva headquarters. But Mr Lamy warned: "My experience is that ambassadors in Geneva can't agree on things that ministers have not agreed in Cancun".

After saying that he would not "play the blame game", he said the WTO, which organised the negotiations, was a "medieval" body that was in need of urgent reform before any fresh attempt to seal a trade deal. "The rules and procedures of this organisation cannot support the weight of the task," he said.

Robert Zoellick, the chief US negotiator, said his country had come ready to negotiate but accused others of being unwilling even to work off the texts that were produced as the basis of negotiations.

"Whether developed or developing, there were 'can do' and 'won't do' countries here. The rhetoric of the 'won't do' overwhelmed the concerted efforts of the 'can do'. 'Won't do' led to impasse," he said. "Some larger developing countries have spent too much time on inflammatory rhetoric before getting down to negotiations."

The alliance of three African-centred groups that led the walk out, the African, Caribbean Pacific group, the Least Developed Countries and the African Union, blamed the Europeans for pushing for the launch of talks on the so-called Singapore issues - foreign investment, domestic competition, trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement. Jayan Krishna Cutteree, a Mauritian minister and spokesman for the ACP, said: "We did not make a rash judgement. At the point at which we broke up there could not have been any chance of a compromise".

Ms Hewitt said the talks were a "shocking waste of time and money". She said Luis Derbez, the Mexican chairing the negotiations, "pulled the plug", adding: "It is bitterly disappointing as we could have done a deal".

Peter Sutherland, the former Director General of the WTO and chairman of BP, said: "the outcome is deeply disappointing, we needed a positive signal for the world economy and this certainly doesn't provide one. However we should not be too apocalyptic about the future, it has always been the case that these talks are prone to very public failures".

Pressure groups blamed Washington and Brussels for "wrecking" the deal while some said that EU member states should have acted to change the European mandate before it was too late. John Hilary, trade policy analyst at ActionAid, said: "The UK set Lamy running on this issue ands they did not pull him back".

Barry Coates, director of the World Development Movement said the new issues should never have been on the agenda. "What part of no did the EU not understand?" he asked. "The UK government was one of the countries that has pushed the new issues [and it] must take its part of the blame".

Mr Zoellick gave a heavy hint that the US would not embark on bilateral negotiations with individual countries - something that advocates of a trade deal had feared because of the one-sided nature of such talks.

"We have free trade agreement with six countries and we are negotiating with 14 more," it said. "It was revealing that a number of developing countries have expressed their interest in free trade agreements with the US".

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