First WTO Ministerial in Africa: ActionAid warns, “Don’t kill the consensus to use trade to support development!”


The stakes at this week’s World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting were escalated yesterday as the conference opened with its host, Kenyan Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, broaching the possibility that they may well decide to put an end to the WTO’s negotiating function altogether.

If the WTO no longer provided a forum where all nations have say in setting global trade deals, developing countries would be put at a serious disadvantage as talks would shift to regional and bilateral agreements where rich countries would have even more sway.  

“Developing country governments should take this prospect as a call to action,” said Marie Clarke, Executive Director of ActionAid International USA. “They must assert their sovereignty and not be intimidated into agreeing to things that will deny their countries the benefits of world trade.”  

"Three months ago the UN agreed a set of development goals, including the urgent reduction of gross inequalities and since 2001, the WTO has promised to right the imbalances in trade negotiations that have disproportionately favored developed nations. 

“Giving up on the pledge the WTO made in 2001 to resolve the distortions that reinforce growing inequality between developed and developing countries would signal a radical capitulation by developing countries. It would also betray the consensus of the UN General Assembly that inequality is environmentally, economically, and politically unsustainable.” 

Recent statements by negotiators appear to offer a dangerous quid pro quo: giving the US its goal of getting a raft of ‘new issues’ added to the WTO agenda in exchange for simply allowing negotiations on the Doha development agenda to continue.  

Marie Clarke added: “Bringing in ‘new issues’ without resolving the development agenda risks diverting attention away from development and the unresolved inequalities in the global trading system. And without the assurances they need from the WTO development agenda, developing countries would be at an immediate disadvantage in tackling entirely new topics.

“The choice facing developing countries is between submitting to a plantation-model economy, in which rich countries make the rules, or standing firm and insisting on an equitable trade agreement that truly supports sustainable development.”

ActionAid is particularly concerned about the impact on small food producers - 2.5 billion people, or 35% of the world’s population who provide about 80% of the food we eat.

“Ethiopia today faces a food emergency involving at least eight million people. In this context it is unforgivable for the US and its allies in wealthy nations to attempt to deprive countries like Ethiopia from being able to ensure food security for their people. Developing countries must be able to create food stocks, support small producers and protect themselves from rich countries dumping products at below-market prices.”

For more information please contact: 

John Kisimir, Communications Officer, ActionAid International, +254 708 077 436

Soren Ambrose, Head of Policy, ActionAid International, Tel: +254 723 151 541 

Rick Rowden, Policy Manager, ActionAid International, Tel: +254 792 000 909