I’ve been trying to understand exactly what happened at the WTO ministerial conference in Cancun. That they’ve come apart is pretty clear, but there is a certain amount of ambiguity about why and who is to blame. The crux of the matter appears to be the “Singapore issues”, for which you can find a more detailed discussion at Crooked Timber.
What are the “Singapore issues”? In most of the world, national governments get to write the laws regulating investment and taxing economic activity, and usually government contracts are, at least to some degree, offered preferentially to locally controlled or operated businesses. It seems that some combination of countries – the US, the EU and Japan – want to extend the WTO’s mandate to globalising investment and procurement rules. Apparently, the whole business first came up at the WTO ministers’ meeting in Singapore after the death of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment in 1998 – a treaty intended to address exactly these questions of government procurement and investment security.