All is not well at the four-day summit of the World Trade Organization in Geneva, with the first ministerial meeting since 2017 coming up short on deliverables and a general show of unity. Credibility appears to be on the line due to gridlock over lowering subsidies and easing trade flows, and delegates will have to act fast if they want something concrete to take home to their countries. The closing session will end Wednesday, though there are calls to extend the conference by a day due to a lack of consensus.
Backdrop: The last WTO gathering broke up without an agreement on farming subsidies and officials are desperate to get at least one deal over the line this time around. It's especially important given the recent shift towards deglobalization, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, new waves of nationalism and fears that everyone is not playing by the same rules (like China). The result has been a fragmentation of trade regulations, which can be especially damaging in the WTO, where all 164 member states have to agree on any one particular issue.
At this year's conference, there have been talks on ways to tackle food security threatened by the invasion of Ukraine, which has been traditionally referred to as the "Breadbasket of Europe." Efforts have been made for countries to send food to the World Food Program, but there are many nations that are holding out as they worry about their own resources. The most likely area that could see some agreement is a deal to end harmful fishing practices - which are underpinned by billions of dollars in global subsidies - but those too ran into trouble at the last minute.
Go deeper: It's just one scenario, but the case exemplifies the typical disagreements that take place within the WTO. With negotiations in play for more than two decades, a pact aimed at sustainable fishing was close to completion, before being derailed by major fishing nation India. New Delhi insisted on a 25-year overfishing exemption based on its status as a poorer developing country, though other nations were only willing to grant it a 7-year transition period, arguing that larger carveouts would be catastrophic.