Continued delays jeopardize hopes of pro-poor trade reform at WTO

Published: 1 November 2005

Continued delays are damaging the chances of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreeing reforms that will help lift millions out of poverty, said international agency Oxfam today. On the day that various Ministers, including EU trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, arrived in Geneva for last-minute talks before the summer break, Oxfam said that issues of vital importance for developing countries were being sidelined.

Continued delays are damaging the chances of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreeing reforms that will help lift millions out of poverty, said international agency Oxfam today. On the day that various Ministers, including EU trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, arrived in Geneva for last-minute talks before the summer break, Oxfam said that issues of vital importance for developing countries were being sidelined.

"Rumours, briefings, counter briefings, and tacit finger pointing are resulting in a complete lack of clarity. There is an urgent need for real progress towards pro-development reform, and yet the meeting has been dominated by foot-dragging and blame games. Now ministers are flying in at the last minute. Do they really think they can save the day or is this just a PR coup?" said Céline Charveriat, Head of Oxfam International's Make Trade Fair campaign.

Oxfam blamed the EU and US for failing to show leadership and warned that waiting until September, when the new Director General Pascal Lamy is due to start, would leave much to be done.

Charveriat: "It is groundhog day in Geneva. Yet again rich countries are blocking progress behind the scenes while publicly proclaiming their willingness to reform trade so that it promotes development. A lot of faith is being placed in Mr Lamy, but one man can't save the Doha round. The EU and US must immediately change their attitude or they will fail the poor."

Negotiations on agriculture and non-agricultural market access are both stalled, and no progress has been made on key development concerns including reform of US cotton subsidies and the granting of 'special and differential treatment' for developing countries.

The US is seeking to water down proposals to give duty and quota-free market access to poor countries, and despite the fact that they face a deadline of September 1 to reform their domestic subsidies on cotton, they have made no moves to do so. Meanwhile, the EU has presented a new formula for market access that would let them off having to cut some of their highest farm tariffs. This follows a proposal from the Group of 20 developing countries that was widely received as a good basis for negotiation.

"This meeting was meant to be a vital stepping stone on the way to the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong in December, and yet it has so far failed to deliver anything of substance. Meanwhile, an exclusive set of countries are talking behind closed doors and refusing to disclose information," said Charveriat.

Oxfam warned that private meetings of a few countries would lead to biased agreements being foisted upon the rest of the membership at the last minute. Failure to observe transparent and democratic process was not the way to deliver pro-poor trade reform.

Oxfam is calling on rich country WTO members to set an early end to agricultural export subsidies, reform domestic subsidies, especially on cotton, and improve market access for developing countries. Reforms should not be conditional on reciprocal action from poor countries.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact Amy Barry on 41 (0)764517294 or 44 (0)7980 664397.