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Talks on world trade collapse in Cancun

Poor countries say rich nations refuse to address concerns

Protesters wearing fiberglass heads of world leaders plug their ears near the Word Trade Organization meeting in Cancun Sunday. Depicted from left are Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, Jean Chretien of Canada, Tony Blair of Great Britain and Jacques Chirac of F
Protesters wearing fiberglass heads of world leaders plug their ears near the Word Trade Organization meeting in Cancun Sunday. Depicted from left are Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, Jean Chretien of Canada, Tony Blair of Great Britain and Jacques Chirac of France.
Jaime Puebla, Associated Press

CANCUN, Mexico — World Trade Organization talks toward sweeping new global rules on agriculture and other businesses collapsed Sunday, with poor countries accusing rich nations of refusing to address their concerns about worldwide poverty and unfair competition posed by farm subsidies.

Delegates from developing countries walked out of the WTO talks in Cancun, Mexico, before agreements were reached on the meeting's last day, charging that wealthy countries wanted to focus on new rules for opening up countries to foreign investment before resolving problems with agriculture, which affect millions of poor people around the globe.

Delegates from blocs of developing countries, from big countries like China and Brazil to small countries in Africa, said they felt they had made progress in forcing rich countries to listen to their concerns about the current course of globalization.

The developing countries had insisted that the WTO talks make firm progress toward setting a calendar for the European Union, the United States and Japan to phase out the billions of dollars they pay out annually to farmers.

The poorer countries insist that those subsidies not only make it harder for their farmers to compete, but they also depress prices of agricultural goods worldwide.

By the end of Sunday, delegates had not even begun to negotiate over farm subsidies, however.

"The way they have been going about it is as if the rest of the world does not matter," said Alegresia Akwi, a Ugandan delegate. "The rest of the world matters as much as the developed countries."

The collapse was a blow to the United States' efforts to use its influence to spread free trade and open up new markets for U.S. products and investment.

International aid organizations blamed the United States and the European Union for intransigence over farm subsidies that led to the collapse.

U.S. representatives in Cancun levied blame at the European Union for refusing to budge on subsidies.

The collapse prompted sharp words of rebuke and disappointment from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who played a key role in the talks at this Mexican seaside resort.

"Too many were spending too much time pontificating, not negotiating," Zoellick said at a press conference. "Some countries will now need to decide whether they want to make a point or whether they want to make progress."

Zoellick suggested that poorer countries' interests were not being served by the collapse because the WTO's failure in Cancun to reach a consensus will hinder trade liberalization and growth.