Oxfam: development still missing two weeks before crucial WTO meeting

Published: 6 December 2005

Issues of importance to developing countries are still not being addressed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) although the Ministerial meeting in Hong Kong is only two weeks away, warned international agency Oxfam today.

Pascal Lamy, the WTO's Director General issued a draft text for the December meeting on Saturday. The text reveals that there are still yawning gulfs between different countries' positions and that development is not sufficiently at the center of negotiations.

Phil Bloomer, Acting Head of Oxfam International's Trade campaign said: "It's very disappointing how far members are from agreeing a deal that would help poor countries. This trade round was launched with great promises but four years down the track development has slipped to the bottom of the agenda. Rich countries have been pursuing their own self-interest and must take responsibility for this failure."

Oxfam is concerned that agricultural reform, of crucial importance to poor countries, will not be delivered. Rich countries promised in 2001 to eliminate agricultural export subsidies and sharply reduce their trade-distorting programs, but the EU in particular is now making these concessions conditional on progress in other areas, including non-agricultural market access and services.

Bloomer: "Poor countries are having to fight a rearguard action to keep their issues on the agenda. At the same time they are being forced to use precious negotiating capital to resist proposals that only serve rich countries' interests. This is not what a development round should look like."

The current text doesn't mention trade related intellectual property rights (TRIPS), which determine the access poor countries have to affordable medicines. There is a TRIPS Council meeting tomorrow, after which the text will be completed. Oxfam is concerned that African countries are being put under enormous pressure to agree deal that would not be in their best interests.

"Developing countries must not be forced to accept a deal on TRIPS that will hurt the poor, the sick, the vulnerable. Looming deadlines must not be used as excuses to push agreement at any cost," said Bloomer.

Responding to a proposal in the text, Oxfam called on all rich countries to grant duty and quota free market access for the poorest countries immediately.

Oxfam also welcomed a call by Commonwealth Heads of Government on Saturday for rich countries to give more than they receive in WTO talks.

Ministers meet in Geneva later this week.

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