World Trade Organization Ends Meeting in UAE after Failing to Reach Major Agreements

AP Photo/Jon Gambrell
Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed al-Zeyoudi, right, prepares to speak into a microphone provided by World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at a WTO summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Negotiators taking part in a World Trade Organization meeting in the United Arab Emirates ended their summit early Saturday after failing to reach agreements on several major initiatives, the latest sign of turmoil within the global body.

The WTO delayed its closing ceremony in Abu Dhabi by over a day as the 166-nation bloc struggled to reach consensus on fishing, agriculture and other issues.

The only agreement of note came on extending a pause on taxes on digital media such as movies and video games. On that issue, the WTO decided to extend the pause until their next biennial meeting.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala noted that the summit took place “against an international backdrop marked by greater uncertainty than at any time I can remember.”

Like in the summit’s opening on Monday, she made no direct mention of Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. However, she had noted previously the ongoing disruptions to shipping caused by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Red Sea over the conflict.

“The beauty of the WTO is that each member has an equal voice, but that also comes at a cost,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “Nevertheless, we are a unique organization, and I think the cost is worth it. Let’s keep going so we can make our voices heard.”

Elections across nearly half the world’s population could bring new challenges for the WTO. None are perhaps more critical for the WTO than the United States presidential election on Nov. 5.

Running again is former President Donald Trump, who threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the WTO and repeatedly levied tariffs — taxes on imported goods — on perceived friends and foes alike. A Trump win could again roil global trade.

But even if President Joe Biden is reelected, the United States has deep reservations over the WTO. The U.S. under the past three administrations has blocked appointments to its appeals court, and it’s no longer operating. Washington says the WTO judges have overstepped their authority too often in ruling on cases.

The U.S. also has criticized China for still describing itself as a developing country, as it did when it joined the WTO in 2001. Washington, Europe and others say that Beijing improperly hampers access to emerging industries and steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology. The U.S. also says China floods world markets with cheap steel, aluminum and other products.