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Behind closed doors trade talks turn sour

Media Release
For immediate release: 28 July 2004

Behind closed doors trade talks turn sour

International agency Oxfam today accused rich country members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of carrying out untransparent negotiations behind closed doors and souring the chances of a successful outcome to the talks that began today in Geneva.

As ministers from 147 countries met amid high security, Oxfam held a press conference in a park outside the barriers. The backdrop was four shop dummies wearing business suits adorned with US, EU, Canadian and Japanese flags, stuck upside down in a sandpit.

“We are afraid that rich countries have their heads in the sand. They are not acknowledging just how much is at stake this week,” said Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand. “If the Doha Development Round were properly implemented it could deliver benefits to billions of people around the world. But instead, a few rich countries are holding it hostage because they want to retain their privileges.”

Oxfam highlighted agriculture as a key issue for developing countries and said that negotiators needed to come forward this week with concrete proposals on export subsidies, domestic support and market access if the talks were to deliver pro-development reform.

Oxfam warned that the tenor of the negotiations so far was not promising. Developing countries were last night being put under pressure to accept a deeply unfair proposal on non-agricultural market access (NAMA), which would require them to open their markets much more dramatically than rich countries, said Oxfam. They have repeatedly rejected this proposal but it is being forced upon them again. Such arm-twisting so early on in the meeting does not bode well.

Coates: “The worst case scenario would be that rich countries get agreement on their priority areas, like NAMA, and trade facilitation, and developing countries are forced to accept non-committal platitudes, or worse, on agricultural dumping. This would be a betrayal of the Doha round commitments, but it is looking increasingly likely.”

Later today there will be a meeting of Brazil, India, Australia, the EU and the US – the so-called non-group of five. It is expected that they will be shown an advance copy of the re-drafted agricultural proposal. The outcome of this meeting, and specifically their response to the agricultural text, will set the tone for the next few days. Talks are expected wind up on Friday.

/ Ends

Editor’s notes
- Photos available
- The draft text referred to is WTO JOB (04)/96. Please contact Oxfam for a copy.
- As well as agriculture, other issues in the framework, such as NAMA and the Singapore Issues, are analysed in the full Oxfam Briefing Paper One Minute to Midnight.
- 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 negotiator for the EU.

www.oxfam.org.nz

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