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Oxfam blames rich countries for stalemate in trade

For immediate release: 15 December 2003

Oxfam blames rich countries for stalemate in trade talks

Geneva: Oxfam today criticised the EU and US for causing the stagnation of world trade talks. Perez de Castillo, the chairman of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) announced today at a meeting in Geneva that they would not be able to relaunch negotiations properly until February next year due to continuing disagreements over key issues such as cotton, agriculture, and the so-called Singapore issues.

"Today's announcement, while not a surprise, is a huge disappointment to millions of poor people that could benefit from trade reform," said Michael Bailey, senior policy advisor at Oxfam. "Since talks collapsed in Cancun, developing countries have shown their willingness to get back to the negotiating table. It is rich country stubbornness that has caused today's stalemate. There was bound to be a period of re-assessment but the time has come to put an end to the hand wringing and finger pointing and revive genuine negotiations."

The chairman's text, presented by Mr Castillo this morning, failed to set any deadlines or outline any concrete reform. There were, however, clues to how negotiations may progress next year:

- Cotton: the chairman's statement says that "multilateral negotiations require time", but for the 10 million West African cotton farmers whose livelihoods are being destroyed by US subsidies, time is running out fast
- Agriculture: the chairman urged members to commit to "elimination of all forms of export subsidies" that cause export dumping, calling this a "must" for successful negotiations. He mentioned a need to set a date to phase out these subsidies. With three quarters of the world's poor dependent on agriculture, such reform, led by the EU and US, is essential for poverty reduction.
- Singapore Issues: today at least 44 developing countries, representing more than half the world's population reiterated their opposition to negotiation on the Singapore Issues. EU insistence on the Singapore Issues bought Cancun to a halt and is now prolonging the paralysis in Geneva. The New Zealand government is pushing negotiations on one of the Singapore issues – trade facilitation.

Barry Coates (Executive director, Oxfam NZ): "It is absurd that a handful of large producers and agribusinesses in rich countries can hold world trade talks hostage. The EU and US need to look beyond short-term commercial interest and recognise that growth in the developing world is essential for global prosperity and security.

“New Zealand has common interests with developing countries to end agricultural dumping. This can only happen through multilateral negotiations. It is time the government stopped pushing red herrings like trade facilitation and free trade deals with the US. New Zealand trade should reflect our long term interests, which can only be met by ensuring that all countries get a fair deal at the WTO.”

Ends

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