Hopes dwindling for trade deal that helps the poor

“Rich countries have failed to present meaningful offers”
Adrie Papma
Oxfam International
Published: 9 March 2006

World trade talks will fail poor people unless rich countries change their offers and reduce their demands at a key meeting starting tomorrow in London, said Oxfam International today.

Trade ministers from Australia, Brazil, India, Japan, the US, and the EU will hold a two-day meeting in an attempt to reach consensus on key issues including agricultural reform and market opening. They are aiming at an April 30 deadline to get a draft deal outlined but anything discussed in London will have to be taken back to other countries for approval.

“There is a grave risk that as deadlines loom the interests of poor countries will be sacrificed in order to keep the multilateral system alive. But no deadline is important enough to justify signing a deal that will make things worse for poor people in developing countries,” said Adrie Papma, Head of Oxfam International’s Make Trade Fair Campaign.

“This round was launched to tackle the imbalances in world trade, especially through substantial reforms in agriculture. But what has been offered by the US and the EU on agriculture doesn’t go far enough and is accompanied by unacceptable demands on poor countries in other areas,” she added.

For Oxfam a true development deal must include meaningful cuts in rich countries’ trade distorting agricultural subsidies and improved market access for developing countries’ farm products. At the same time, poor countries must be given sufficient space and flexibility to promote the development of their agricultural, services and industrial sectors.

Specifically, Oxfam wants to see deeper cuts in rich countries’ trade distorting agricultural subsidies, including stricter disciplines on allowable payments and a cap on overall spending. The EU in particular must improve its offer on farm market access, including by cutting the number of so-called ‘sensitive products’ that will be more highly protected. The US must act immediately to end its illegal and harmful cotton subsidies that cause dumping.

The pledge made at the WTO Ministerial meeting in Hong Kong that developing countries will be able to protect key agricultural products of importance for food security and livelihoods must be confirmed, not watered down.

In the non-agricultural market access negotiations the EU and US must observe the principle of ‘less than full reciprocity’, which means agreeing a final deal that allows developing countries to cut their tariffs less than rich countries. All rich countries must stop putting pressure on other WTO members to negotiate on services.

Papma: “We reject the claim that developing countries are not doing enough. Rich countries have failed to present meaningful offers. Their demands on industry and services are unreasonable and have the potential to undermine future growth in poor countries. This would be a bitterly ironic conclusion to a so-called development round.”

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