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WTO looks at another day

Cancun, Sept. 14: The world trade talks entered the final day with no sign of an end to the deadlock over the text of a new global accord that is scheduled to kick into place in 2005.

Trade negotiators from India, China, Brazil, Malaysia, EU, US and Canada, among others, resumed talks early this morning after their “green room” huddle late last night failed to find a common ground on the modalities for the discussion.

Both rich and poor countries have complained loudly about a compromise text by Mexican foreign minister Luis Ernesto Derbez. But with both sides refusing to back off from their intransigent positions on the key issues of agriculture, market access and the Singapore issues, the possibility of an extension of the conference by a day loomed large over the convention centre.

It happened in Doha, the Qatari capital, in November 2001 as well, when the then commerce minister Murasoli Maran stuck to his ground till the very end. With Jaitley showing no signs yet of abandoning his position, it looked like a distinct possibility unless they reach a face-saving agreement that everyone can go back home happy with. This time though, Jaitley has the support of the Group of 22 nations — an alliance that is holding despite pressure from the rich nations to split it wide open.

Last time round, agreement was reached with the adoption of the phrase “explicit consensus”; all the parties had agreed that they would move forward on any of the contentious issues only when there was explicit consensus.

There’s no such buzz phrase around this time, and with both the US and India going into election mode sometime next year, neither can afford to come away with a deal that will carry the stink of a sellout.

Already, the signs of pressure are evident with two members of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, who are here as NGO participants at the Cancun meeting, saying they were unhappy with Jaitley’s speech.

“This (Derbez) text as it currently stands is not acceptable to anyone,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters. “Positions seemed to be more firmly entrenched.” “Some sacrifices will have to be made," said Rockwell but it is difficult to say where these might be.

Poor and developing nations said Derbez’s proposal did not put enough pressure on the United States and the European Union to slash the massive subsidies estimated at around $ 144 million that they give their farmers.

Jaitley said the Derbez plan “arbitrarily disregarded views and concerns expressed by us” and it “does not lend itself to any meaningful dialogue.”

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