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Breakdown in WTO Talks – A Set Back for NZ

Media Release
30 July 2008

Breakdown in WTO Talks – A Set Back for New Zealand and Global Economy

The Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce regrets the bad news from Geneva this morning that the major players have failed to bridge differences at the WTO Ministerial. As a consequence the talks have not achieved agreement on modalities for the way forward on agriculture and non-agricultural market access.

“Minister Goff and his team of officials in Geneva have been working as hard as anyone could expect to achieve the desired outcome. They must be deeply upset by this outcome,” said Charles Finny, Chief Executive of the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“As we understand things, the Ministerial process is to be formally wound up at a meeting of the WTO Trade Negotiating Committee at midnight New Zealand time. We hope that this meeting achieves agreement to freeze the progress that has been achieved over the past nine days by Ministers so that when political conditions are right negotiations are picked up again and finalized speedily. We accept that this may not be until mid-2009 once a new US Administration in is place.

“The deal that is on the table in the WTO is far from perfect, no one member would have been happy with all elements. But it was a package that would have seen everyone better off than they would be without it. An agreement would have sent exactly the right signals for the current fragile state of the global economy and the breakdown represents a real set back.

“For New Zealand it offered the end of agricultural export subsidies, caps on domestic agricultural subsidies, and improved market access for agriculture, fisheries, forestry and manufactures. More work was needed on services but signs there were positive that some forward movement could be achieved also. It is therefore a tragedy that a small number of WTO members were trying to unpick elements of this package.

“There will no doubt be plenty of finger pointing over the next few days. From my personal observation in Geneva over the first six days off this Ministerial it was clear that calling this meeting with so many complicated issues unresolved was extremely ambitious. That it came very close to success was a surprise to many, and reflects good leadership from the WTO Director-General Lamy, and key players such as USTR Schwab, EU Commissioner Mandelson and Brazil’s Foreign Minister Amorim.

We were surprised that the meeting fell down over the issue of the special safeguard mechanism for agriculture.

This, in itself, was probably not sufficient reason for such an important negotiation to fail. One member was consistent in its opposition to this package and it is a great shame that another major player chose to join them in recent days.

“Once the dust settles the Chamber would like the opportunity to talk in detail to Minister Goff over what happened, the way forward and the way the private sector might be of even greater assistance to the Government negotiating team in getting negotiations re-launched, and concluded,” Mr Finny concluded.

ENDS

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