Four days of intensive trade talks here concluded Thursday with negotiators still far apart on a host of key issues including agriculture, textiles, subsidies and trade in services.
Although the meeting failed to narrow appreciably the differences in the four-year negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks, known as the Uruguay Round, there was a general consensus that at least the disagreements between parties are clearly defined now.GATT is the Geneva-based body that governs most world trade in goods.
"It's clear there are blockages in every major area and that's very, very troubling. But on the positive side this . . . meeting has made it clear what the differences are. There is nothing that should prevent us from making a deal except political will," said a senior U.S. trade official in Geneva.
With the round scheduled to conclude in a ministerial level meeting in Brussels this December, diplomats were unanimous in their view that time is running out for reaching an agreement.
Negotiations on reforming global farm trade represent the most significant obstacle to a successful round. As many as 50 countries have linked a successful agreement in agriculture to their participation in other aspects of the round, including trade in services, investment and better protection for patents, copyrights and trademarks.
The United States and the European Community, the two biggest subsidizers of agriculture, remain at odds over the scope and pace of reforms.
Although the two sides could only agree to use a text by Aart de Zeeuw - chairman of GATT's farm negotiations committee - as a way to intensify the talks, U.S. officials now believe the community is serious about negotiating away significant levels of government farm support.
The community's position on maintaining broad farm supports has left Brussels ever more isolated in the global trading community, but U.S. officials this week withheld fierce criticism of EC policies, for a change.
"Sometimes when you seem to be making a little bit of headway inside the room, maybe you lower the rhetoric a little bit outside the room," said a senior Bush administration official.
But the official said failure to resolve the complex agriculture issue at the Houston summit earlier this month and during this week's meeting of the GATT steering group known as the Trade Negotiations Committee had created a ''mini-crisis."
Greater flexibility must be shown by the community when talks begin again in earnest next month, he said, if an accord is to be struck.
"The handwriting is on the wall. If the community isn't prepared to move a little more substantially in September, then it will be a much bigger crisis," he said.
GATT Director-General Arthur Dunkel, meanwhile, took a swipe at the U.S. negotiating position on textile trade reform.
Washington's proposal to scrap existing national import quotas and allow nations to compete for markets under an expanding quota has been rejected by nearly every other nation, and Mr. Dunkel suggested that the U.S. proposals ''need to be reviewed, and a decision taken, as a matter of urgency."
As in past meetings, Latin American nations complained here that issues important to developing countries - agriculture and textiles - were taking a back seat to issues deemed important for the wealthiest nations.