Sean O'Grady: A missed chance to give world a tax cut

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The Independent Online

Are they dead or just resting on their perch? The collapse of the world trade talks is easily dismissed as one of those great diplomatic routines, an annual ritual of late nights, sweaty, exhausted trade ministers trading the odd insult, in between wrangles about banana quotas. "Make or break" negotiations collapse in a red-eyed heap on the conference floor. Then they squawk back into life the next year and the cycle goes on. So we have learnt to filter them out as background noise to other, more vital global tussles. And yet these talks matter hugely.

A global economy facing recession desperately needs the boost that trade can bring. The abolition of tariffs proposed in Geneva would have been a massive tax cut for the world – about $100bn per annum. The scale of the even greater boost to growth is unknowable but it would leave all of us better off, just as globalisation has already lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese, Indians and others out of poverty.

A successful trade round would also have raised world food production and dampened the spiralling cost of staple foods hitting the world's poorest hardest, opening up our lucrative markets to growers in the developing nations. Allowing Brazil, for example, with her warm climate to supply our biofuels – on a sustainable basis – makes vastly more sense than growing them at enormously subsidised expense in the northern hemisphere.

The EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has described the collapse of the talks as a "burial". They certainly give a good impression of having fallen off their perch.