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WTO-SPECIAL: ‘Do Not Sacrifice Development’

Ramesh Jaura

HONG KONG, Dec 17 2005 (IPS) - Some 90 civil society organisations have asked developing countries “not to sacrifice their development by accepting the inadequate offers and extreme demands of developed countries.”

“No deal in Hong Kong is better than a bad deal,” the civil society organisations (CSOs) said one day ahead of the scheduled conclusion of the sixth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Sunday.

“We are outraged by how the developed countries, particularly the United States and the European Union (EU), are trying to use the ministerial to aggressively push forward their agenda to open the markets in developing countries for the interests of their corporations,” the CSOs said in a joint statement Saturday.

At the same time the major developed countries are not making meaningful concessions to stop the dumping of their agricultural products in developing countries, they said in their statement. “This would be a very bad deal for development and no deal in Hong Kong is better than a bad deal.”

The statement was endorsed among others by the Third World Network (TWN), Global Call for Action Against Poverty (GCAP), Oxfam International, ActionAid International, Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth and the World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS).

The demands and concerns of developing countries in the ongoing round have repeatedly been sidelined, they said. “In fact it appears that pressures are being put on some developing countries during the ministerial not to resist the market-opening proposals of the developed countries.”

A case in point was the draft agriculture text released Friday night. “It has language in it that will give the U.S. and the European Union guarantees that they can continue their dumping in developing countries with results that will be disastrous for farmers in the developing world.”

The EU and U.S. offers to cut “trade distorting supports” will not actually lower their current levels of support because both these countries gave themselves a very high margin of support they can provide in the Uruguay Round but do not currently spend, the statement said. The Uruguay Round trade agreements preceded the current round of negotiations launched in Doha in Qatar four years back.

The U.S. and EU offers do not cut into the actual support they currently provide. The United States will still be able to increase support in the trade distorting category by another 1.5 billion dollars, and the EU by between 9-15 billion euros (11-18 billion dollars), the civil society groups said.

The U.S. provides support of about 74 billion dollar a year, and EU support amounts to about 90 billion euros (110 billion dollars). There will be no change in the overall level of subsidies, the civil society organisations warned.

Agriculture remains the sector containing most trade distortions, and the Uruguay Round’s promise of liberalisation in the rich countries has yet to be fulfilled. “In the current negotiations the offers by the U.S., EU and other developed countries proposals are grossly inadequate and unless these offers are improved significantly, there will be little (if any) real cuts in domestic support which goes to production for export,” the statement said.

Also, the end date for export subsidies is yet to be fixed, though they should have been eliminated long ago.

While developed countries stubbornly refuse to deal with dumping, or end their protection, developing countries are being pressured to reduce drastically their own agricultural tariffs, thus laying their small farmers open to more unfair competition from artificially cheapened import, the groups said.

To make matters worse, the civil society organisations say, attempts are also being made by the major developed countries to put a “spin” that the developing countries, or at least the least developed countries (LDCs), are getting some benefits in advance through a “development package”.

“Developing countries should not be fooled about the chicken feed offered, compared to what they will lose in terms of their food sovereignty and economic development with the current package,” said George Naylor of the National Family Farm Coalition, and representative of La Via Campesina, a farmers movement.

The farmers’ groups are also pointing fingers at Pascal Lamy, the director general of WTO, who has been leading the ministerial in Hong Kong this week, calling him a “sorcerer” with “nothing in his tricks bag except illusions.”

Andrianna Natsoulas of Food and Water Watch, a new consumer organisation in the U.S. said: “The WTO is an institution that uses smoke and mirrors to force free trade, not a legitimate institution that is an ally of developing countries or citizens of the world.”

The reality in Hong Kong is that there are deep disagreements among WTO members about what would constitute a success in this ministerial, and therefore WTO representatives plan on repackaging the proposals on the table and presenting them as a consensus to cover up the fact that the WTO is a failing institution, the groups say.

Highlighting yet another aspect, Food and Water Watch, a new consumer organisation based in Washington, D.C. launched a major new campaign Friday in Hong Kong to remove water from all aspects of the WTO and all other regional and bilateral trade agreements.

Now, a new threat to water is being aggressively promoted in the negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), the NGO said.

“If the European Union and its water transnationals are successful in having water included in GATS, countries will lose their sovereign ability to maintain the public nature of their water systems, putting millions at risk,” Food and Water Watch said.

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