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Trading kisses? Love-in fails to save WTO talks.

July 30, 2008

Call it the Geneva syndrome – a variation of the Stockholm syndrome where a kidnap victim grows to love his captors.

After gruelling nine-day World Trade Organisation talks collapsed spectacularly, the main warring parties – India and the United States – kissed and made up.

India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath“Yesterday, in the Green Room (where the talks took place), Susan Schwab said that she loved me,” India’s Trade Minister Kamal Nath told reporters when asked about relations between himself and his U.S. counterpart. “I said that I loved her too. But probably she didn’t love me enough.”

In back-to-back news conferences held to explain what went wrong, both Nath and Schwab laid the blame at the other’s door.

But behind closed doors, the two key negotiators say they maintained a warm relationship.

Earlier in the week, Schwab had tried another tactic to win Nath’s affections by passing him an envelope containing a single dollar signed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

The gift was a reference to Nath’s often repeated mantra that if U.S. subsidies could US Trade Representative Schwab smiles during a news conference at the WTO headquarters in Genevabe reduced by just one dollar, a trade deal could be reached that would benefit India’s poor farmers, many of whom live on no more than a dollar a day.

Despite the smiles, the talks collapsed over Nath’s demand for developing countries to protect their farmers from surges of cheap imports, conditions Schwab said would enable them to roll back years of trade liberalisation.

The wallflowers at the party were the poor countries of Africa – left outside a core group of seven negotiators. One of their main concerns – cotton - did not even get discussed at all, leaving in place huge U.S. subsidies which they had hoped to see reduced.

After the party – the hangover - so where does global trade go now?

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