Chancellor seeks world summit to rescue deadlocked trade talks
Heather Stewart in Washington
Sunday April 23, 2006
Gordon Brown yesterday threw his weight behind a last-minute rescue plan for deadlocked global trade talks, as the latest deadline for reaching a deal, a week today, looked certain to be missed.
The Chancellor, who was in Washington for the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund, called for a world summit to inject renewed urgency into the flagging World Trade Organisation negotiations.
Brown warned of a return to the protectionism of the Thirties if the organisation's 149 members could not break the stalemate, which last week saw Europe and the US berating each other for the lack of progress. 'The best signal that we are going to resist protectionism would be to push forward with the WTO talks,' he said.
Fairer trade was one pledge made to developing countries in last year's Make Poverty History campaign. But while the G8 promised $50bn a year in overseas aid at the Gleneagles summit, and wrote off the debts of many poor countries, rewriting the rules of global markets to help the poor has proved much harder.
Both Brown and Tony Blair believe that bringing heads of state together would win concessions, and isolate the more protectionist states such as France. Downing Street and the Treasury are trying to persuade German Chancellor Angela Merkel to take a lead in pushing the talks forward.
But some trade campaigners have voiced concern that an eleventh-hour trade deal could prove bad news for the poor. 'The worry is that Blair is letting his enthusiasm for a deal blind the judgment about what it would actually mean for the developing countries - he's not thinking about what it would mean for the little guys,' said Matt Griffith, a trade analyst at the Catholic charity Cafod.
The European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson is also sceptical about the benefits of an emergency summit. 'You only get one shot at this, and it would be a disaster if you had this high-profile meeting and for no agreement to come out of it. You have to get the fundamentals right first,' said his spokesman.
Brown's efforts come amid increasing US-EU tension over trade issues. President Bush's commitment to the WTO talks was questioned last week when he sacked his trade representative, Rob Portman, in a White House shake-up. But the US responded angrily when Mandelson said in a speech that the US's current offer to slash its farm subsidies was unacceptable to 'half of humanity'.
'The [European] Commission is quite adept at speeches, press conferences and finger-pointing. We just wish they would put the same energy into the needed negotiations,' a US spokeswoman said.
Europe has been reluctant to give up its farm subsidies and open agricultural markets to poorer producers, while major developing countries like Brazil and India are being urged to lower barriers to their industrial markets.
In a further bid to get WTO talks moving, Britain also offered this weekend to pour cash into a fund to help the poorest countries build the infrastructure to allow them join world markets - so-called 'aid for trade.'
Brown's intervention coincided with a move to steal the political thunder from Conservative leader David Cameron's call for an environmental policy 'revolution' including a tax on carbon emissions.
Brown told Radio 4's Today Programme there was 'moral need' to tackle climate change. But in an apparent reference to Cameron's initiative, he said 'warm words' would not be enough and policies had to take account of the effect on consumers and the economy.