(July 18) No news was bad news for the World Trade Organization free trade talks in July.

A dearth of headlines heralding progress from negotiations among more than 50 trade ministers in Geneva in late June and early July fed pessimism that the WTO talks were headed for the cliffs of doom.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said July 7 that he was disappointed with WTO talks in Geneva the previous week, but he said the administration was still working for an agreement.

Geneva negotiations bogged down with loopholes in market access concessions and the lack of commitment by developing countries to open their markets, said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab in July 7 remarks to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

She said negotiators left Geneva asking WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy to conduct shuttle diplomacy to spark progress.

In fact, on July 12, the Associated Press reported India’s trade chief failed to offer a compromise to Lamy that would satisfy demands from the U.S. and other developed countries for greater market access.

Expectations of developing countries for bigger cuts in U.S. and European farm subsidies are unmet, and developing countries failed to provide much access to their markets to U.S. agriculture.

Schwab said that developing countries are hurting themselves by resisting lower tariffs, noting that 70% of duties paid by developing countries are paid to other developing countries.

Anita Brown, lobbyist with Schramm, Williams & Associates, Washington, D.C., said that the negotiations will persist until the last of July. After that, the talks will likely recess in August with many countries on holiday. The first few days of September may be the last gasp for the WTO talks, she said.

“I don’t think any of the countries want the talks to be considered a failure,” she said.

Congress must approve the treaty by June 1 of next year, when President Bush’s trade promotion authority expires.