The hissing noise coming out of Geneva, Switzerland recently is the sound of deflated hopes for the lengthy effort to further liberalize world trade.
Though tentative agreement was reached on a range of issues, negotiators meeting at the World Trade Organization hit an impasse over how to let developing nations keep some special protective barriers, and the talks broke off. The hoped-for deal to help poor countries in the developing world by giving their farmers access to wealthy markets in the West in exchange for developing nations opening their markets to Western services and manufactured goods seems no closer than it was when the so-called Doha Round of trade talks started seven years ago.
The hissing also accompanies the inevitable finger pointing that follows such a contentious outcome. China called the collapse of the talks a tragic failure, and though without naming names it seemed to suggest that the United States refused to make a needed compromise. Others countered by saying China, and India too, failed to live up to their responsibilities to the world trade regime.
As international farm trade grew during the negotiations for a Doha agreement, China and India wanted to be able to protect their farmers from import surges by imposing safeguard tariffs. The U.S. and others said safeguards already exist, and expanding them would close markets rather than open them.
"In the face of a global food price crisis, we simply could not agree to a result that would raise more barriers to world food trade," said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.
The future of the Doha Round is now unclear, but the U.S. remains committed to its completion.