WTO talks hang on a thread: Developing countries must not be blamed
As negotiations continued at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, international agency Oxfam said that developing countries must not be blamed for delay or possible breakdown of the talks.
At lunchtime on Tuesday (29 July), discussions were continuing between key players on a number of controversial issues. Chief among them, the details of a mechanism designed to allow poor countries to protect their small farmers against agricultural import surges.
Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “Developing countries gained some ground in the last few hours around flexibility to defend their smallest farmers, however the overall package is still very imbalanced, with poor countries being asked to give up much more than they would gain.
“It is outrageous to imply that poor countries are in some way to blame for the failure till now to get a deal. If the EU and US actually came forward and made meaningful offers that lived up to their promises, we would see progress. Instead, they continue to demand harsh concessions from developing countries in exchange for largely illusory reforms. Until there is a better deal on the table, developing countries are perfectly right to hold their ground.”
Oxfam said the issue of US cotton subsidies should be addressed urgently as a symbol of the inequity of global trade. The US lost a case at the WTO against its subsidies, and promised to reform them more ambitiously and faster than other agricultural support. However, meaningful proposals have not been forthcoming, and the US has largely failed to engage with the African countries affected.
Oxfam said that Ministers needed to remember that the current round of negotiations, launched 7 years ago in Doha, was meant to reform trade rules to benefit developing countries. Since then the talks have lost their way and rich countries have pursued self-interest and made unreasonable demands.
Hobbs: “This is not just about trading off a few billion dollars in agriculture for a few billion dollars in industrial goods. It is about addressing the damage done by decades of rich countries' farm subsidies and protectionism on one hand, and ensuring that developing countries have the right to industrialize their way out of poverty on the other.”
The current meeting was meant to finish last Saturday. Talks are tentatively scheduled to wrap up tomorrow but all deadlines are shifting and there is a lot of uncertainty around process and likely outcome.
Oxfam warned against pushing a bad deal through to meet deadlines or restore political credibility. “If it takes time to do a deal that is good for development then so be it. No deadline or political reputation is worth sacrificing the opportunity for genuine reform or jeopardizing the livelihoods of poor people,” said Hobbs.