Breakdown of trade talks a missed opportunity

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 30 Jul 2008

The breakdown in trade talks in Geneva would leave the world’s poorest people increasingly vulnerable at a time already plagued with great uncertainty around food and fuel prices, international aid agency Oxfam said today.
Oxfam acting Executive Director James Ensor said the breakdown was a major disappointment and an important opportunity missed.
“At a time when food and fuel prices are high and the global economic outlook is uncertain, the world’s poorest people are increasingly vulnerable. A decent trade deal could have given them a chance to prevent worsening poverty,” Mr Ensor said.
"Rich countries should have shown the political leadership to deliver trade reform that reduced poverty. Instead they defended vested interests and put poor countries under intense pressure to make concessions that have no place in a development round.”
Mr Ensor said the missed opportunity for trade reform that poor countries so badly needed and had been long promised was brought about by rich countries’ failure to keep their word.
"If the EU and US had made meaningful offers that lived up to their promises, we might have seen progress. Instead, they demanded harsh concessions from developing countries in exchange for largely illusory reforms and limited flexibilities," Mr Ensor said.
Talks have been ongoing since last Monday. There have been a number of controversial issues, including the details of the so called Special Safeguard Mechanism, designed to allow poor countries to protect their small farmers against subsidised agricultural import surges.
"We admire the resolve of developing countries that held out against a bad deal, and maintained unity in the face of unfair strain,” Mr Ensor said.
“The offers on agriculture from developed countries were inadequate and conditional on harsh concessions on industrial trade in return. At a time when prices are volatile, developing countries were right to fight for the flexibility to defend their smallest farmers and ensure food security.”
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 Ministers needed to remember that the current round of negotiations, launched seven years ago in Doha, was meant to reform trade rules to benefit developing countries.
“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 industrialise their way out of poverty on the other.”
To arrange an interview with James Ensor or for more information please call Laurelle Keough on +61 409 960 100