GENEVA (AP) — Negotiators came tantalizingly close but failed to clinch a global free trade deal after more than a decade of talks that could have given the world economy a $1 trillion boost, the head of the World Trade Organization said Tuesday.
Roberto Azevedo said diplomats from the WTO’s 159 members tried hard but “cannot cross the finish line here in Geneva” ahead of a summit where ministers were to have signed the deal in Bali, Indonesia, next week.
He said more progress was made in the past weeks than over the past five years, but that was still not enough.
“We are indeed close, but not quite there,” he said at a press conference.
The negotiations would have eased the rules of global commerce by cutting red tape to open markets and help develop poorer economies. They also focused on tariff quotas, government incentives for exports and agriculture issues such as subsidies for grain stockpiling.
But disputes between major economies such as the United States, the European Union, China and India bogged down the discussions. The main disagreements were over cutting customs red tape, opening the agricultural sectors to competition and support for the least developed economies.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Michael Punke expressed “a great deal of sadness” over the failure. “We’re worried — alongside so many in this room — that a once-in-a-generation opportunity may have slipped our grasp,” he said.
Some diplomats, like Moroccan Ambassador Omar Hilale, held out hope that negotiators could still reach a deal in Bali. But most said it was too late.
Azevedo said there remains so much disagreement that several more weeks of negotiations could not close the gaps.
“Holding negotiations in the short time we’ll have in Bali would be simply impractical with over 100 ministers around the table,” he said