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Rich countries backsliding on promises

16 December 2005

Rich countries backsliding on promises, Developing countries standing firm

Developing countries are rejecting bad offers from rich countries at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong. They should maintain their firm stance and resist proposals that would exacerbate poverty, said international agency Oxfam today.

In the last 24 hours new initiatives have emerged from different developing country groups on all three pillars of the negotiations – agriculture, non-agricultural market access, and services. These have been presented in response to proposals from rich countries and the WTO Director General that failed to live up to promises to put development first.

Phil Bloomer, Head of Oxfam International's Make Trade Fair campaign said: "The EU and US are trying to undermine developing countries' positions. They are playing groups off against each other, recycling old pledges on aid, and offering market access to some but not others. At the same time, they are backsliding on promises already made. Developing countries must stand firm against this pressure."

An alternative text on services emerged late yesterday from the G90 – a coalition of developing countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America. They are rejecting the current services text which denies them the right to choose whether or not to open their service sectors, including health, education and water, to foreign competition.

Bloomer: "Developing countries agreed to enter negotiations on services on an 'opt-in' basis. Now rich countries are trying to change the rules of the game halfway through and force them to negotiate even when it is not in their interests. This has the potential to undermine development and deny poor people access to basic services at prices they can afford."

Poor countries have also rejected existing proposals on lowering industrial tariffs, including on cars, textiles, and electronics, on the grounds that they are too sweeping and make no provision for the protection or promotion of fledgling businesses.

On agriculture, developing countries are holding out for an end date for export subsidies, and continue to resist rich country demands that concessions on agriculture must be matched by reciprocal movement by poor countries in other areas.

The EU today tabled a proposal saying that any product-specific exceptions on market access for poor countries – so called 'special products' – should be linked to comparable exceptions for rich countries – known as 'sensitive products', despite the fact that the former were promised to protect food security and livelihoods.

Bloomer: "Rich countries are going backwards not forwards. Professions of commitment to development are sounding more and more hollow. This is unacceptable and poor countries must stick together and continue to hold out for a better treatment and a fairer deal."

ENDS


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