EU, US blamed for failure of trade
- Malta favoured negotiations on Singapore issues
By Julian Manduca
The European Union and the United States drove the World Trade Organisation
(WTO) talks here to collapse as they refused to give real concessions
to a bloc of developing countries, members of civil society have claimed.
The US on its part has blamed some unnamed countries for
not willing to reach agreement on the so-called Singapore
issues: investment, competition, transparency in government procurement,
and trade facilitation.
Some delegations, notably those from the European Union and Japan, but
also Malta, favoured launching negotiations immediately on all these
issues. Several developing countries, however, resisted negotiations
on the Singapore issues.
In his speech to the WTO delegates Maltas representative Parliamentary
Secretary Edwin Vassallo had come out in support of the Singapore liberalisation:
"I would like to emphasise the fact that Malta fully supports negotiations
on rules in the areas of investment, competition, trade facilitation
and transparency in government procurement.
"We strongly believe that the introduction of rules
in these areas would serve to strengthen the overall framework of the
international trading system by facilitating the flow of investment,
an important generator of economic wealth, as well as creating additional
His words could not have gone down well with most third world countries.
Following the collapse of the talks Vassallo said: "the meeting
was called to a close suddenly when there was insistence that there
should be no link between agriculture and other issues including fair
trade and the Singapore issues."
However, members of civil society said there was resistance to the new
Singapore issues as these intend to liberalise investment, competition
government procurement and trade facilitation, which are opposed by
most developing countries.
The failure of the meeting touched off celebration among protesters
and victory statements from some developing country officials. But US
officials said the breakdown would hurt developing countries most by
delaying world economic recovery and forestalling reduction of poverty.
The Cancun meeting did not get to discuss agriculture, expected to be
a major subject of controversy with developing countries calling for
EU and US subsidies to agriculture to be removed. Many agricultural
products in the EU and US receive and both are looking to extend their
subsidy regime beyond 2003, with most countries in the majority world
In his address Vassallo told delegates: "May I take this opportunity
to emphasise at Malta is a strong believer in the gradual, yet sustained
move towards further liberalisation of international trade."
Vassallo explained: "however, I believe that efforts towards further
liberalisation of trade should be complemented by the strengthening
of global regulations for fair world trading."
Talking about the service industry Vassallo said: "Malta is fully
aware of the increasing contribution this sector is providing to global
"Being a services-oriented economy itself, Malta supports initiatives
to further develop this area whilst at the same time providing countries
with every opportunity to implement effective regulation in order to
attain their respective domestic socio-economic objectives."
On agriculture Vassallo had this to say: "we believe that any trade
liberalisation attempts for this sector should be fair and orderly and
should allow scope for the provision of the necessary financial assistance
to operators in this field to effectively restructure.
"We also want to reiterate our belief that agriculture has special
features given the important contribution which it provides to socio-economic
structures and development.
"We therefore continue to support a multifunctional approach to
negotiations in this sector, one that takes full consideration of issues
such as rural development, environment protection and animal welfare."
Following the breakdown of talks and the closure of the meeting Vassallo
said: "the different groups of countries should re-examine their
positions and show greater flexibility so that negotiations can continue
and an agreement be reached before December 2004, as was mandated at
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, however, expressed doubt that
the WTO negotiations launched at Doha, Qatar, in 2001 could be completed
on schedule by the end of 2004. He added that the United States would
vigorously continue negotiating free trade agreements with willing partners.
Civil Society is less enthusiastic for an agreement and Friends of the
Earth International Trade Co-ordinator Ronnie Hall said: "No deal
is better than a bad deal. Despite intense pressure from the business
lobbies and bullying by the European Union and the US, developing countries
have stood their ground. This is a great development for people, small
businesses and the protection of the environment."