Almost five years of talks among countries in the World Trade Organization came to a halt this week. Director-General Pascal Lamy in Geneva suspended the troubled negotiations. He says restarting them will require work within countries.
The talks began with the hope for an agreement that would open up world markets and reduce poverty in developing nations. But negotiators failed to agree on ways to permit more free trade in agricultural and industrial goods.
Since two thousand one, members of the World Trade Organization have debated how to reach goals they set in November of that year. The meeting took place in Doha, Qatar; the trade talks became known as the Doha Development Round.
A meeting in Seattle in nineteen ninety-nine had failed to begin a new round of trade talks then.
The Doha Round opened at a rough time, two months after the terrorist attacks on the United States. Negotiators set out to lower trade restrictions and take other steps to help poorer countries.
The main issue for many developing countries is government support programs for farmers. Farmers in developing nations say they cannot compete with agricultural prices driven down by farm subsidies in rich nations.
But the trade ministers could not reach agreement on what steps were needed to let the talks move forward. And soon, countries started blaming each other for the failure.
The European Union said the United States refused to cooperate. Peter Mandelson is the E.U. trade commissioner. He said the United States was making "very large demands," but was not willing to make new offers to cut aid to its farmers.
American officials called his statements false and misleading. They said the European Union and other W.T.O. members were not willing to do enough to lower their import barriers to farm products. American officials also said Brazil and India were refusing to cut barriers on industrial imports.
A Bush administration spokesman said American trade officials will continue discussions with other nations in the hope of an agreement.
So what does all this mean for the future of world trade?
Gawain Kripke is a trade expert with the aid group Oxfam International. Mister Kripke says the failure of the Doha round will hurt the poorest countries the most. He notes that under the rules of the World Trade Organization, each country's voice is given equal weight. He says this is often not the case when two countries, or countries in the same area, try to negotiate trade agreements themselves.
A successful trade deal in the Doha round could increase the world economy by as much as ninety-six thousand million dollars a year. It could pull sixty-six million people out of poverty. These are both estimates by the World Bank. Officially the talks are not dead, only suspended. But many countries believe it could take anywhere from months to years to restart them.
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I’m Steve Ember.