WTO kenija.jpg
Photograph: EPA/DANIEL IRUNGU

The chances for a global development and trade deal looked more uncertain than ever Saturday, when member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ended a high-level meeting without agreeing on the future of the stalled Doha negotiations.

The ministerial conference in Nairobi was meant to determine the fate of the WTO's stalled Doha talks that began in 2001 to create a global free-trade regime with a strong focus on development.

"Members have different views on how to address the negotiations," the final statement said, in a veiled reference to a deep rift between industrialized countries on one side and emerging and developing countries on the other.

India and Venezuela criticized that the more than 160 WTO countries could not agree on whether to continue or abandon the so-called Doha round.

"We are thoroughly disappointed on this score," Indian Trade Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.

Developing countries and major emerging economies such as India and China had fought for continuing the Doha talks.

The Doha process classified emerging countries as developing countries, allowing them to benefit from preferential trade conditions even though they have long been competing with industrialized economies on world markets.

On the other side, the United States and the European Union argued in Nairobi that the Doha development agenda had not yielded tangible results and should therefore be shelved.

The WTO should focus on regulating areas arising from the globalization of commerce, such as multinational production and investment processes, as well as online trade, US and EU officials argued.

"Many members want to carry out the work on the basis of the Doha structure, while some want to explore new architectures," the final statement of the conference said.

"The missing consensus about continuing the Doha round is the first step towards abandoning the WTO's development agenda," said Sven Hilbig, a development expert with Bread for the World, a Germany-based protestant development aid group.

An opportunity to create a more just world trade system had been missed yet again, he added.

Britain-based charity Oxfam charged that the US and the EU were blocking development in the area of trade by rejecting the Doha agenda.

"This is a slap in the face of millions of people in Africa who suffer from poverty and hunger," Oxfam's agricultural expert Marita Wiggerthale said.

Despite their fundamental differences, WTO countries reached consensus on phasing out government subsidies on agricultural products by 2018. Developing countries will have time until 2023 to complete this process, while the world's least developed countries have until 2030.

However, the substantial government loans available to US farmers will remain largely intact under the agreement.

WTO members also affirmed that poor countries are allowed to raise tariffs temporarily in case their argricultural markets are flooded with cheap imports.

While India won an extension for its controversial large stockbuilding of food for its poor, other WTO members refused to make this exemption permanent.

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