Oxfam: beware the fine print – new trade offers could amount to nothing

Published: 13 February 2007

New offers from the world's biggest trading powers may not be the breakthroughs they are presented as, warned international agency Oxfam today ahead of a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

During recent weeks there has been talk of a possible approximation between the EU and US on the thorny issue of agricultural subsidies and tariffs, and some new numbers have been mentioned as possible improvements on existing EU and US offers.

However, Oxfam GB Director, Barbara Stocking, who is attending Davos, warned that topline figures could disguise what were actually insignificant improvements: "The devil in these negotiations is in the detail and talking about topline scenarios, without entering into detail could give a misleading impression.

"Under current WTO rules, the US could still shave a few billion dollars off its subsidy offer, with a very small impact on actual spending levels. Meanwhile, the EU could apparently improve its offer on tariffs, but still be able to heavily protect key products of importance to developing countries."

Oxfam said that for new offers to be meaningful, they must be accompanied by measures specifically designed to guarantee an end to dumping of subsidised agricultural products on developing countries and ensure real increases in market access.

Demands for reciprocity should be tempered by the recognition of the need for poor countries to use trade policies to promote food security, rural livelihoods, and future industrial development. Failure to do so would lead to the destruction of livelihoods across Africa and the developing world.

Stocking: "Alongside offers to cut overall spending on agriculture we need to see product specific caps that stop the overproduction and dumping of commodities like corn, soya, cotton and rice. Loopholes in the rules must be closed so that trade distorting subsidies are not merely shifted from one place to the other."

"Talk of average cuts in tariffs is meaningless if countries are able to maintain tariff peaks on key sensitive products like cereals, poultry and beef, thereby seriously diluting the much-needed market access gains for developing countries."

Oxfam said that a restart to the so-called Doha round negotiations would be welcome because trade rules urgently need to be made fairer for developing countries. However, the worst outcome would be a deal that was rushed through to meet political deadlines but failed to redress imbalances or deliver promised reforms.

Stocking: "Davos could be a moment at which rich countries renounce their self-interest and state their genuine determination to radically reform their policies to help development. It must not just be another talking shop, where the needs of developing countries receive no more than lip-service."

Contact Information

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Barbara Stocking, call Amy Barry on +44 1865 472313 or +44 7980 664397.