Officials from thirty countries are meeting in Switzerland to renew talks aimed at further liberalizing world trade. The outlook for reaching a deal appears uncertain, but it’s at least a hopeful sign that officials feel they’re close enough to some kind of agreement to warrant reviving the negotiations now.
The process began in 2001 and a deal has been long in coming. The goal was to offer farmers in poor countries access to wealthy markets like the United States and Europe, in exchange for developing nations like Brazil and India opening their markets to manufactured goods and service industries from the West. But the talks stalled two years ago, as negotiators were unable to reach agreement over import tariffs and farm subsidies.
The new meeting comes amid stormy economic conditions in many parts of the world. Energy and food prices are at historically high levels, stifling growth in many countries and squeezing the poor everywhere. These conditions may make it possible to reach agreements that eluded officials in the past, in hopes of spurring economic expansion through increased trade. The world's food shortage could also be eased if a deal is struck to open agricultural markets, at the same time boosting economies in Africa and Latin America with growth in their farm sectors.
"To have a meaningful development outcome to this round, we have to secure meaningful new market access in agriculture, manufacturing and services, and that is particularly true when it comes to the interests of the developing countries," said United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab. Indeed, all parties in the talks must contribute to reaching a deal.