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Downward bound

16 December 2005

Towards the end of Saturday morning we should have the first impression of the extent of the damage to the WTO. The Doha Round, already listing after Seattle and Cancun, is in danger of suffering a terminal breech if negotiations in Hong Kong thus far are anything to go by.

Around noon, we expect the revised draft text for Hong Kong. The augurs for a deal – on which George Dubya has “staked his legacy” – are not good.

Peter Mandelson said today the negotiations were “going backwards”. On behalf of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, Mauritius said there would be no deal unless banana, cotton and sugar exporters retained their preferential access to lucrative markets. The members of the bloc, he said, refused to be placed once again “between the hammer and the anvil”. Honduras, Benin and Venezuela have all threatened to walk out of the talks, the latter over services liberalisation, where a weak consensus has been shattered.

Friday’s one stirring moment came when developing countries formally congealed into their biggest coalition ever – pretty much all of them. Led by the sparkling Kamal Nath of India and Brazil’s Celso Amorim, the G110 (comprising, naturally, 120 countries) has vowed to force the rich nations to match their commitments on development without making further concessions.

“In the plenary hall, the big countries are talking about a development round, a round for free for the [least-developed countries]” said Nath, whose grandstanding is making him something of a name. “Once they get in [sacrosanct arm-twisting bodega] the Green Room, it becomes a round for free for themselves.” 

With protesters planning a last hurrah over the weekend, frantic buck-passing for an imminent collapse is under way. But the ministerial has already run aground.

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