Swiss disappointed as WTO talks fail in Cancun

Not everyone considered the Cancun talks a failure Keystone

Talks at the World Trade Organization ministerial conference in Mexico have failed to resolve differences between rich and poor countries, especially on agricultural trade rules.

This content was published on September 15, 2003 - 11:40

The Swiss economics minister, Joseph Deiss, said he doubted whether negotiations would now be concluded by the end of 2004.

Commenting on the deadlock, Deiss said he was disappointed that the current round of trade talks in Cancun had not ended in decisive agreements.

However, he stressed that there had been a positive outcome of sorts, as the meeting had enabled the 146 member states to hold constructive discussions and make contacts.

Deiss added that he was satisfied with Switzerland’s involvement in the trade talks, which included presiding over a group of ten countries importing agricultural produce.

“Switzerland came to Cancun open and ready for compromise,” he said.

The Swiss economics minister told delegates during the conference that Switzerland wanted to strike a balance between protection of the country’s agriculture and liberalisation of agricultural markets.

Market access

Beat Moser from the Swiss Society of Chemical Industries said Cancun’s failure to liberalise trade further would have a negative effect on Swiss businesses, resulting in restricted access to new markets.

However, there was a mixed response from non-government and non-profit organisations.

Michel Egger of the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations said: “Better no agreement than a bad one.”

Switzerland’s largest conservation organisation, Pro Natura, saw the outcome in a different light.

“The industrial nations have to learn that it’s not only the interests of the large companies that count. The environment and social matters have to be respected in world trade,” said spokeswoman Miriam Behrens.


Among the controversial themes that led to the collapse of the talks were the so-called “Singapore issues”.

The United States, the European Union and Japan were looking for a consensus on launching formal talks on these complex rules, designed to liberalise trade and cut red tape.

Countries such as India, Brazil and Malaysia were vehemently against discussing these issues within the framework of the Cancun meeting.

The talks also saw the emergence of an alliance of 22 countries - including Brazil and India - which complained about existing trade rules being rigged against them in favour of richer nations.

swissinfo, Erwin Dettling, Cancún

In brief

The WTO meeting is the halfway point of the current Doha round, a series of proposed trade deals launched in December 2001.

At the heart of the Doha agreement is a pledge to help boost developing economies by removing obstacles blocking their growth.

The negotiations are due to be concluded by January 2005.

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