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WTO draft declaration fails to meet the test

Media Release
For immediate release: 19 July 2004

WTO draft declaration fails to meet the test:
There isn’t enough development in the “Development Agenda”

International agency Oxfam today described a draft World Trade Organisation (WTO) declaration on reforming global trade rules as ''disappointing'' and unlikely to deliver substantive change that benefits poor countries. The WTO released the text ahead of its General Council Meeting due to take place at the end of the month.

“These negotiations in the WTO have been billed as the Doha Development Agenda, but the development aspect remains empty rhetoric. There are less than two weeks left until the crucial General Council meeting, but the draft declaration still lacks the vital elements that are needed to make international trade rules fairer to the world’s poor. Almost one year after the failure at Cancun, the negotiators have still failed to understand that developing countries in the WTO are determined to ensure that the reality of the deal matches the rhetoric. The lessons from the Cancun debacle have not been learnt,” said Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand.

In one important respect there has been progress. There will be no negotiations on three out of four of the “Singapore issues”, investment, competition policy and transparency in government procurement. These were a major stumbling block in Cancun. However, the draft still includes the fourth of these issues, trade facilitation, even though many developing countries have not agreed on the starting point for the negotiations. Oxfam has expressed concern over the potential for WTO dispute settlement to be invoked against countries that cannot afford to finance the procedures that are likely to be required to speed up trade, especially given their lack of finance to meet other priorities such as HIV/AIDS, education and clean water supplies.

On the crucial issue of agriculture, the New Zealand Chair, Tim Grosser, has prepared a draft to mediate between competing interests. Barry Coates commented: “Agriculture remains the major stumbling block. The complexity of provisions in the draft allows too many opportunities for the rich countries that subsidise their farming to exploit loopholes. The continued existence of the Blue Box in the draft allows them to re-classify payments to farmers (mainly the large agricultural corporations) under the guise of not distorting trade.”

“The draft has failed to properly address the risks to around 900 million small farmers in the developing world, while taking great pains to accommodate the interests of rich countries who want to be able to continue dumping excess produce and shutting their borders to imports from developing countries. One stark example is cotton. Due to continuing opposition by the United States, the text completely fails to respond to developing country demands that trade-distorting support on cotton be eliminated.”

The text admits that there has been no progress on other issues of importance to developing countries (such as implementation and an enforceable framework for Special and Differential Treatment) and the basis for Non-Agriculture Market Access (NAMA) negotiations will create major problems for many developing countries.
“Time is running out and most of the hard work remains to be done. Oxfam is calling on all WTO members to negotiate a framework that remains true to the spirit of the Doha mandate and delivers a pro-development round.”


Editor’s notes
- The draft referred to is WTO JOB (04)/96, released to WTO member countries last Friday. Please contact Oxfam for a copy.
- The General Council meeting starts on 27th July. The meeting aims to agree the starting point for negotiations that were initiated at the Doha Ministerial meeting of the WTO in November 2001.
- Oxfam considers that this meeting will be an important stage in the negotiations. A failure to secure agreement at the General Council is likely to significantly delay negotiations, due to the timing of the US Presidential elections and the likely change in WTO negotiators for the US and EU.
- A more detailed analysis of the draft declaration is currently being undertaken by the Oxfam trade team, drawing on the confederation of Oxfam International (expected to be available on Wednesday).

© Scoop Media

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