Responsibility on EU and US to deliver fair trade rules for 2006

Published: 20 December 2005

The EU and the US must put radically new offers on the WTO negotiating table in the new year or risk seeing this round of development talks grind into a standstill, says international agency Oxfam. In a new report “What happened in Hong Kong?” published today, Oxfam says that unless the EU and US make immediate and genuine offers to reform their domestic farm subsidies and open their markets to developing countries, then the talks could quickly become mired a long slow round stretching into the next decade.

The EU and the US must put radically new offers on the WTO negotiating table in the new year or risk seeing this round of development talks grind into a standstill, says international agency Oxfam.


In a new report “What happened in Hong Kong?” published today, Oxfam says that unless the EU and US make immediate and genuine offers to reform their domestic farm subsidies and open their markets to developing countries, then the talks could quickly become mired a long slow round stretching into the next decade.

This would prolong an unjust world trading system that condemns developing countries to poverty. “Developing countries will not finalise a bad deal and that means rich countries cannot just continue in 2006 where they left off in Hong Kong,” said Oxfam International executive director Jeremy Hobbs.

“The EU and the US failed to deliver on their much-lauded development promises and there are worrying signs they are reverting to their traditional ‘might is right’ negotiations,” he said.

“If we search hard for optimism, then a longer round might allow poorer countries more time to strengthen their assertiveness,” Hobbs said. “However the price that poor people will pay in continuing to suffer these outrageously unfair rules is too high – especially when rich countries have all of the answers but simply can’t bring themselves to use them.”

The Hong Kong Ministerial (Dec 13-18) was a missed opportunity to make trade fair. Rich countries put their own interests ahead of poorer countries. Small progress in agriculture was cancelled out by anti-development proposals on services and industrial tariffs.

“The Hong Kong meeting was the usual maelstrom of rumour and brinkmanship, made more difficult by exhaustion from those doing the negotiating,” Hobbs said. “The EU and the US each had well over 300 delegates each who could take turn about to sleep and cover all aspects of the negotiations, whereas for example Burundi’s three delegates had to be on 24-hour duty.”

Claims this week by the EU that it actually helped to save the talks are ludicrous, Hobbs said. “The fact is that the talks were logged-jammed between EU and US self-interest. Instead of agreeing hard numbers, Hong Kong largely became an exercise in shadow boxing and ambiguity.”

Oxfam says the mood of the developing country delegates toward the end of the talks was one of “grudging acceptance rather than celebration.” Everyone wanted to avoid a total collapse for fear of terminally damaging the WTO, and rich countries played this card in putting pressure on developing countries to sign a deal.

“Beyond this psychology of the meeting, the simple fact is that most of the big decisions on agriculture, services and industrial tariffs have simply been deferred until next year,” Hobbs said. “If developing countries hadn’t asserted themselves as much as they did, the final text could actually have been much worse for them.”

Oxfam notes that the US Congress is unlikely to grant a renewal of the President’s “fast track authority” after June 2007. This authority allows the President to sign a WTO agreement without Congress amendment. This means the fine details of a new deal will have to be negotiated very quickly in 2006.

“It is very difficult to see the WTO being able to thrash out a good deal as quickly as is required, especially after having just spent 16 months of hard bargaining just to move forward an inch in Hong Kong,” Hobbs said. “The onus lies with the US and the EU. They could do what’s needed to successfully conclude this development round, if only they can muster together the political will to do so.”

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Matt Grainger, Senior Media Officer, Oxfam International, on +44(0)1865-339128, or +44(0)7730-680-837