It will take more than new deadlines to finalize a ‘development’ trade round

World trade rules will not be reformed in the interests of poor countries despite this month’s G8+5’s commitment to finalize the stagnant Doha trade talks by 2010.

“It’s almost become something of an annual tradition for the G8 to talk about the importance of finishing the trade round – but for absolutely nothing to come about from that talk,” said Oxfam International executive director Jeremy Hobbs.

The report published today, “Empty Promises”, says that the Doha Round has become an exercise in prizing open developing country markets rather than one to rebalance decades of unfair agricultural and industrial trade rules. “Rich nations would do better to renounce their self-interested negotiating tactics and get back to original premise of the Doha Round if they are sincere about getting these negotiations back on track,” Hobbs said.

A “development” trade deal – as originally promised – remains important because the world is now experiencing its sharpest drop in trade in 80 years. 50 million people stand to lose their jobs, remittances are collapsing, and growth in sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to fall by 70% this year trapping 90 million more people in poverty. Food prices meanwhile remain high for poor consumers: by the end of 2008 a further 109 million people had been added to the ranks of hungry, topping 1 billion people worldwide.

“It is quite seductive for world leaders to invoke the climate, economic and food crises and declare that a new world trade round will help tackle them all. Under perfect circumstances it might be true that a round focused on the needs of developing countries could make a difference – but the deal that is now on the table is badly flawed and will not do enough to help developing countries,” said Hobbs.

The political commitment from the G8+5 will certainly lead to a fresh start to negotiations. There are already talks of a Mini Ministerial in September. Advocates hope to get a final agreement on numbers at a full ministerial meeting in Geneva by the end of November.

However a stalemate persists because in the past eight years, rich countries have used the talks to continue to push to open up new export markets. Developing countries have resisted, saying they were promised a deal that would give them space to protect their farmers and new industries, an end to rich country trade-distorting agricultural subsidies, and more access to rich markets for their farmers and industries.

“A deal now that continues to buffer the richest and biggest farmers and industrialists in the US and Europe and ignores or even weakens the developing world – and particularly poor farmers – will solve little,” said Hobbs. “It is disingenuous to think that a Doha trade deal based on its current drafts will be a silver bullet to the economic and food crises. It could actually make things worse for some poor people who played little part in creating these problems.”

The rampant food price crisis has shown that food and livelihood security cannot depend solely on market forces. Development rather than liberalization has to be the central objective of negotiations and trade rules must respond to the needs of the most vulnerable people first and foremost.

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