The World Trade Organization failed to reach any new agreements on Wednesday, ending a three-day ministerial conference in discord in the face of stinging U.S. criticism of the group and vetoes from other countries.
“We have not achieved any multilateral outcomes,” European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told a news conference. “The sad reality is that we did not even agree to stop subsidizing illegal fishing.”
She said the meeting laid bare one of the WTO’s biggest deficiencies – that all agreements must have the unanimous consent of all 164 member countries. She said the United States was partly to blame but that other countries also blocked progress.
WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo added that WTO members needed to do some “real soul searching” about the way forward and realize they cannot get everything they want.
“Progress was going to require a leap in members’ positions,” Azevedo said at the event’s closing ceremony. “We didn’t see that.”
He said U.S. moves to block WTO appeals judges, which could disrupt the body’s dispute settlement system, were not discussed as a formal topic, but several ministers voiced concerns in statements at the conference.
The failure to agree on new deals means that talks on the same trade topics will continue. WTO delegates agreed to set a new goal for a reaching a comprehensive fisheries subsidy by the time of the next ministerial conference in 2019.
Trade ministers instead emphasized the WTO’s post-conference work programs, such as efforts to improve market efficiency, curb excess industrial capacity and improve subsidy transparency.