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
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
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 General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect