Oxfam: Breakdown of trade talks a missed opportunity

“Poor countries were perfectly justified to fight for their right to defend vulnerable farmers from subsidized agricultural import surges.”
Jeremy Hobbs
Oxfam International Executive Director
Published: 29 July 2008

The reported breakdown of world trade talks was caused by rich countries offering too little and making unreasonable demands in return, said international agency Oxfam today. Poor countries were perfectly justified to fight for their right to defend vulnerable farmers from subsidized agricultural import surges.

Oxfam International Director, Jeremy Hobbs said: "This is a major disappointment. At a time when food and fuel prices are high and the global economic outlook is uncertain, the world's poorest people are increasingly vulnerable. A decent trade deal could have given them a chance to prevent worsening poverty.

"Rich countries should have shown the political leadership to deliver trade reform that reduced poverty. Instead they defended
vested interests and put poor countries under intense pressure to make concessions that have no place in a development round.

"This is another missed opportunity for trade reform that poor countries badly need and have been long promised. It was brought about by rich countries' failure to keep their word.

"It would be outrageous to blame poor countries for the failure to get a deal. If the EU and US had made meaningful offers that lived up to their promises, we might have seen progress. Instead, they demanded harsh concessions from developing countries in exchange for largely illusory reforms and limited flexibilities."

Talks have been going on since last Monday. There have been a number of controversial issues, including the details of the so called Special Safeguard Mechanism, designed to allow poor countries to protect their small farmers against subsidised agricultural import surges.

"We admire the resolve of developing countries that held out against a bad deal, and maintained unity in the face of unfair strain. The offers on agriculture from developed countries were inadequate and conditional on harsh concessions on industrial trade in return. At a time when prices are volatile, developing countries were right to fight for the flexibility to defend their smallest farmers and ensure food security," said Hobbs.

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