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TRADE: A Partial Doha Agreement

Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Jul 25 2008 (IPS) - The trade ministers of 33 WTO member countries ironed out a few of the differences Friday that have been standing in the way of the completion of the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks, although the emerging deal must still win the backing of all of the global body’s 153 members.

The tentative agreement, which has drawn objections from some countries and harsh criticism from civil society organisations, sets forth proposed solutions for many of the most controversial aspects of the negotiations on agriculture and industrial tariffs, the pillars of the talks aimed at liberalising global trade.

The document was hammered out over the last two days by the trade ministers of six countries – Australia, Brazil, Britain, China, Japan and the United States – and the European Union, which make up the G7.

The G7’s involvement in drafting the compromise deal was requested by all of the ministers who travelled to Geneva this week on the invitation of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) director general, one diplomat told IPS.

Even countries that are now opposed to the deal initially backed the G7’s efforts at coming up with a compromise formula, said the source, who preferred to remain anonymous.

He said that Argentina and India were the only countries, among the 33, to voice objections. But other sources said India’s reservations referred to specific points and did not apply to the document as a whole.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana said the compromise formulas fell short.

But Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim remarked that the chances of success for the talks had gone up to 65 percent, from 50-50 before the start of this week’s crucial negotiations.

Zwelinzima Vavi, secretary general of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), told IPS that “from the South African point of view and that of developing countries in general, I’m extremely worried.

“I think that first there is nothing new in this proposal. This is what has been on the table for the past seven years of these negotiations,” he said.

The G7 initiative “comes down to deep tariff cuts by the developing countries on NAMA (non-agricultural market access, or industrial goods) and very modest” benefits in terms of agriculture, said Vavi.

“The balance is completely inadequate. In fact it is a disaster,” he declared.

Vavi predicted that if the compromise deal goes ahead, unemployment in South Africa will soon double, to 80 percent, with the subsequent “political and social consequences.”

“We are going to bed this night very, very worried about the future not only of South African workers but of the workers in most of the developing countries,” he added.

Furthermore, “the process that generated this agreement is completely undemocratic and so unfair and untransparent,” he complained.

Esther Busser, an adviser to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said “the global trade union movement is deeply concerned by these developments. The NAMA package is no different to what has been rejected many times before. It remains unacceptable.”

A source close to the Argentine delegation said that what was going on in the WTO was that “a group of countries wants to push through an agreement at any cost,” in order to close the Doha Round.

But the proposal approved by the group “is not comprehensive,” and many other issues are still in debate, he said.

The document approved by the 33 ministers must now go to the full WTO membership. After that, proposed accords on the other pending questions, like intellectual property, trade rules and services, will have to be added on. Services is the area that is to be discussed on Saturday, the last day of this week’s special meeting.

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