Oxfam urges US, EU to break trade deadlock to help poor countries

Published: 22 February 2006

International organization Oxfam today called on EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and his US counterpart Rob Portman to urgently make the necessary concessions to ensure that the Doha Round of trade negotiations benefits developing countries.

On the day that the two men met in Washington to discuss the progress of negotiations, Oxfam International warned that the EU and US must stop making excuses for not reforming agricultural trade rules and drop their unreasonable demands for developing countries to open industry and services markets. Unless the trade superpowers changed their approach to the negotiations then no pro-development deal would be possible, according to Oxfam.

"Now is the time for the big powers to show leadership. The big test is whether they come out of their meeting with better offers or better excuses," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. "The current offers on agriculture from both of them will not stop the dumping that is detrimental to the poorest countries. Mandelson and Portman need to remember that this round of trade negotiations was meant to reform trade rules for the benefit of poor countries."

The WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong in December was meant to agree to a blueprint for trade reforms but concluded with minimal results. Members gave themselves a new deadline of April 30 to agree on agriculture modalities and are under pressure to finalize all negotiations before next year's expiration of President Bush's fast-track authority to approve trade deals in the US Congress. However, Oxfam warned that looming deadlines should not be used as an excuse to pressure poor countries to sign up to a deal that would not be in their interests.

"It should not be a case of a deal at any cost. There is not much on the table for developing countries in agriculture and they are being asked to trade away future economic potential of industry and services," said Offenheiser. "This is unacceptable and should form no part of a development round."

Oxfam is calling on the EU and the US to cut trade distorting farm subsidies that lead to dumping and reduce tariffs that block developing country products out of northern markets. Oxfam is also calling for developing countries to be granted the space and flexibility to develop their agricultural and industrial sectors. This would include allowing them to designate certain 'special products' as exempt from liberalization commitments.

"The Europeans have definitely not done enough – the EU needs to go much further with its agricultural reform offer and immediately stop making unreasonable demands on developing countries in other areas," said Offenheiser. "Once the Europeans up the ante, the US will also have to do more – including reform its cotton subsides, implement full duty and quota free market access for poor countries, and keep its promises on agriculture."

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