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WTO: DEVELOPMENT AT STAKE

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OAKLAND, Jul 1 2004 (IPS) - The WTO talks underway in Geneva, aimed at reviving negotiations on lowering global trade barriers, are yet another demonstration of the crisis of inequity and hypocrisy that has afflicted the organisation from the very beginning, writes Anuradha Mittal, founder and director of the Oakland Institute, a non-partisan research, analysis, and advocacy group. In this article, the author writes that the draft agreement set before the 147 members on July 16 openly discriminates against developing nations by adopting a non-committal approach to the Special and Differential treatment needs, sensitive products, and special safe guard mechanisms, all of which it leaves to a \’\’post- framework stage\’\’. At the same time, the draft overlooks African countries\’ demands that the Cotton Initiative be treated on a stand-alone, fast-track basis, instead adopting the US demand to consider this issue under the broader agriculture negotiations. The truth is that in the draft July package, the organisation is acting like a Robin Hood in reverse: trying to rob the world\’s poor to enrich American and European corporations. The WTO will remain deadlocked as long as it continues to fail the development needs of the poor.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks underway in Geneva, aimed at reviving negotiations on lowering global trade barriers, are yet another demonstration of the crisis of inequity and hypocrisy that has afflicted the organisation since its inception. Such talks have floundered since the collapse of the fifth WTO ministerial in Cancun in September 2003.

The draft agreement set before the 147 members on July 16 endorses the reprehensible treatment of development issues in the WTO. For example, the draft callously disregards the concerns of the developing countries in agriculture, an area where developing countries might compete head-on with the industrialised nations. The draft panders to the interests of the politically-influential corporate agriculture in rich countries like the US at the expense of millions of poor farmers across the Third World. It enables rich countries to protect their markets in ‘sensitive’ products from import competition from developing countries while encouraging export dumping at artificially low prices by proposing a framework for new ”blue box” subsidies –tied to programmes that limit production– to accommodate its richest members.

In addition, the draft openly discriminates by adopting a non-committal approach to the Special and Differential treatment needs, sensitive products, and special safe guard mechanisms, all of which it defers to a ”post-framework stage”. At the same time, the draft overlooks African countries’ demands that the Cotton Initiative be treated on a stand-alone, fast-track basis, instead adopting the US demand to consider this issue as part of broader agriculture negotiations.

Using its powerful influence over the World Bank, IMF, and international trade agreements, the US has already pressured poor countries into removing subsidies that favour local producers and lowering tariff charges on foreign imports. With its own subsidies intact, the US dumps cheap subsidised food into developing nations, ravaging the livelihoods of small farmers. The numbers are alarming. For example, the US exports corn at prices 20 percent below the cost of production, and wheat at 46 percent below cost. The result is that the US farm subsidies cost poor countries about USD 50 billion a year in lost agricultural exports — a figure equal to the total aid of rich to poor countries.

The draft fails on several other accounts. It does not mention the review mandated by the 2001 Doha Ministerial of TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) in order to prevent monopolies in agriculture and pharmaceuticals. TRIPS have denied farmers and citizens access to affordable seeds and medicine and promoted the piracy of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. In other areas, such as Non-Agriculture Market Access (NAMA), it reproduces the same text that was rejected by the developing countries in Cancun on grounds that it would deepen their crisis of deindustrialisation and unemployment. In services, the text advocates swift movement forward with market access negotiations instead of respecting the right of developing countries to regulate trade in services.

WTO director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi is keen to have country members reach agreement on the broad principles for cutting subsidies and import tariffs by July 31, ahead of the US presidential election and changes in the European Commission, which will put trade negotiations on hold for months. With the rejection of the draft by the Indonesian government, which represents the G33 group of developing countries, and with growing discontent among other member countries, the WTO General Council Chair Shotaro Oshima has announced that the formal meeting of the General Council would be suspended on July 27, before the agenda item on the July package is discussed, ensuring that most of the negotiations will take place in an ”informal mode”.

Whenever Third World governments have balked at US- and EU- dictated WTO proposals, they have been threatened with the suspension of aid, elimination of preferential market access, and subjected to other forms of arm-twisting. The experience at Cancun, however, showed that this tactic does not work. The crisis of Cancun has been deepened by the maintenance of blatant double standards by the WTO. The truth is that with the July draft package, the organisation is acting like a Robin Hood in reverse: trying to rob the world’s poor to enrich American and European corporations. The WTO will remain deadlocked as long as it continues to fail the development needs of the poor. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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