As incredulous ministers leave the World Trade Organisation in Geneva following the collapse of marathon talks, the question on everyone’s lips is – which way now?
The meeting was the culmination of seven years of negotiations which began in Doha and were aimed at liberalising global trade.
WTO Chief Pascal Lamy could not hide his disappointment: “I think it is no use beating around the bush. This meeting has collapsed. Members have simply not been able to bridge their differences. What happened today will certainly not strengthen the multilateral trading system. It will not improve the system which has provided members with an insurance policy against protectionism over the last sixty years.”
Officials say the talks foundered when the US, China and India fell out over farm import tariffs, a victory, so the US said, for protectionism. The tariffs are aimed at creating a safeguard for subsistence farmers in the event of a drop in prices or a surge in imports.
Global unrest over rising food prices, the credit crunch and the threat of economic downturn also made it harder to pull off a compromise. Many believe the developing world will suffer most.
When or even if the talks will resume is not clear. Analysts fear the collapse may signal an end to multilateral trade agreements in general, with nations more likely to focus on individual deals with partner nations.