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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A World Trade Organization conference dampened from the start by criticism from the United States ended Wednesday without any substantial agreements.
The ministerial-level meeting that wrapped up in Argentina's capital addressed trade issues involving food and agriculture, e-commerce, development and fisheries subsidies.
"Members did not manage to agree on final substantive agreements this time," WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said at the closing ceremony.
"It's not every time that ministers meet that they're going to be to be able to strike deals of the magnitude of what we achieved in Bali and Nairobi, but that doesn't diminish the disappointment that we feel."
The 164-nation WTO, which works to bring down trade barriers and resolve disputes, needs the agreement of all members to reach agreements.
"There was a political decision by some members who had a position against integrated trade. This put us in a turning point. It brought us to a cross point. That did not happen during our previous meeting in Nairobi," said the chairwoman of the conference, former Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra.
The meeting in Buenos Aires began on a sour note when U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Monday that the WTO is losing its focus on trade negotiations and "becoming a litigation-centered organization." He also complained that some WTO members try to gain concessions through lawsuits that he said they could never get at the negotiating table.
The U.S. has long been a top WTO advocate, but President Donald Trump has said the U.S has not been treated fairly by the WTO and he has scaled back U.S. leadership in the trade body. The effects seemed to have caused aftershocks at the meeting in Argentina, although Azevedo said no single reason could be attributed to the meeting's lack of results.
"There wasn't a sole element. There were several situations. In most negotiations you can't attribute success or failure in negotiations to one side," he told reporters.
Earlier this year, China and Taiwan joined other U.S. allies including Israel at the WTO headquarters in Switzerland to express concerns over the Trump administration executive order that seeks to maximize use of American-made goods, products and materials in government procurement.
The 10 WTO members, also including the European Union, Canada and Japan, also urged Washington to continue honoring the trade body's "Government Procurement Agreement" adopted by Washington and 45 other countries — mostly EU states — that aims to promote fair, free access to government contracts.
From the start, there were low expectations about what could be achieved at the biennial conference in Buenos Aires. But the failure to deliver any multilateral outcomes after three days of meeting still disappointed many.
"All WTO Members have to face a simple fact: we failed to achieve all our objectives, and did not achieve any multilateral outcome," EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said in a statement.
"The sad reality is that we did not even agree to stop subsidizing illegal fishing. Now, I hope that several WTO members, whose actions here in Buenos Aires prevented an outcome, will use the time following this Ministerial meeting for valuable self-reflection."
The failure to strike any big deals in Buenos Aires and the lack of U.S. leadership, which has left a power vacuum, highlighted uncertainty at the trade organization.
"The United States was one of the main livelihoods of the WTO," said Mauricio Claveri, a Buenos Aires-based economic analyst who specializes in foreign trade.
"Now, there are no advances on a multilateral level. There's an enormous diversity of interests. That's where the WTO is under great risk of losing that leadership role in trade negotiations and being relegated to an organism with symbolic but no real power."
Associated Press writers Almudena Calatrava and Debora Rey contributed to this report.