Trade row will bring `sleepless nights' in Seattle

AS WORLD Trade Organisation delegations start flooding into Seattle for the largest international trade meeting ever, negotiations on how to rewrite the rules of global commerce are stalled.

A deal could be held up by long-running enmities over agriculture, or by new rifts on how to handle everything from e-commerce to genetically modified food. But the most salient issue may be the new-found assertiveness of some developing countries, led by India and Pakistan.

The WTO has the whole of next week for its 135 member nations to agree on an agenda for a new round of trade talks that would last three years. The groundwork was supposed to have been done in Geneva, but disputes over several high-profile issues prevented progress and no draft agreement was struck.

It was exactly the same at Punta Del Este in Uruguay, when the last round of trade talks was launched in 1986. But it does open the prospect of a very tricky week.

"It is going to be enormously difficult and we are going to spend some seriously sleepless nights in Seattle next week," said Mark Vaile, the Australian Trade Minister.

The US - which holds elections next year - wants the talks to be focused on farm trade and a few industrial sectors as well as the backlog of follow- up issues from the last round. The European Union (which negotiates for Britain) and several other nations want a more ambitious Millennium Round which includes policies on labour standards, the environment, competition, services and all industrial products.

The most difficult disagreements arise on farm goods. The Cairns Group, agricultural exporting nations led by Australia, wants to eliminate all farm subsidies completely.

America also wants a steep cut in subsidies, though it is unlikely to press this as hard as the Cairns Group.

Europe opposes this, saying it is politically impossible, though it is committed to reductions in subsidies. It also argues that farm goods are "multi-functional" - they are linked to the environment, food security and rural life - and cannot be treated in the same way as car engines or machine tools. The different groups came close to a deal on the agriculture section at the weekend, but the EU then backed away.

There is also a very tough range of issues relating to the previous round, and it is here that the biggest problems may ultimately lie. Some developing countries want to reopen the commitments they made in the 1993 Uruguay round because they are too onerous, but the US refuses.

Some also want to tighten the rules against anti-dumping - the use of punitive tariffs when an importing nation suspects an exporter is selling goods at below market price. This is aimed at America, which uses anti- dumping policy often and with little rationality.

But a group of developing nations, led by India and Pakistan, is adamant that the US and the EU must open their markets much faster to textiles. They are worried that as China enters the World Trade Organisation, its textiles will push theirs out of the market. They believe that Brussels and Washington are stalling on market opening.

There are also disagreements over environmental and labour issues. For America, a key priority is to establish some form of global labour standards to ensure that well-paid, secure jobs in the West are not lost to cut- rate, unprotected labour, sometimes involving children or prisoners. Europe wants new environmental standards. Developing countries are sceptical or hostile to both.

Nonetheless, the WTO's top official is still hopeful. "I think it will be done," said Director-General Mike Moore. "Seattle will not fail."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - South East & East Anglia

£60500 - £65500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Technician

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want the opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Worker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Workers needed in the Hastin...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Worker - Car / Bike / Moped Drivers

£7 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: NEW branch opening soon in Worthing fol...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent