No Declaration at WTO would be better than current draft: ActionAid

With WTO talks in Nairobi extended at least seven hours beyond their scheduled closing time, international organisation ActionAid has criticised rich countries that have obstructed progress on issues crucial to developing countries.

 Marie Clarke, Executive Director of ActionAid USA, is in Nairobi and said: “Extending the talks reflects the lack of progress on the big issues, which is business as usual at the WTO – a stalemate caused by the unwillingness of rich countries to negotiate in good faith. This stalemate, caused by their intense resistance to shrinking the rampant inequality that has been a constant feature of international trade, has even led some officials to suggest that the WTO might abandon negotiating altogether.”

 “Doha Development Agenda”

 “The fundamental political debate is whether trade deals will continue to be negotiated in an global forum, or if those talks will shift towards regional treaties like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the US has negotiated with eleven other Pacific Rim nations. Despite the never-ending deadlock at the WTO, it remains the only global forum where all countries have a say.”

The WTO has still not resolved development-related issues, including agriculture, as per the commitment made in 2001 initiating the Doha Development Round of negotiations. Now the rich countries are making an implicit threat that if developing countries do not add a raft of corporate-inspired proposals to the talks before resolving the development questions, they will turn their attention away from the WTO entirely. 

Marie Clarke said: “Fourteen years later, rich countries led by the US still refuse to compromise in order to even the trade playing field.  Now, in Nairobi, the US is leading the charge to add ‘new issues’ onto the agenda, while offering assurances that they will still work to resolve the agreed agenda. This, naturally, just makes poorer countries suspicious.”

“Developing countries fear that rich country governments want to use the “new issues” to push through measures such as special tribunals, which give corporations the right to sue governments.  This would set in stone the chronic inequality in world trade at the expense of national sovereignty.” 

Reacting to her own government’s interventions in Nairobi, Clarke said, “I am disappointed by the disingenuous plenary address by US Trade Representative Michael Froman, accusing developing countries of ‘cynical repetition of positions designed to produce deadlock.’ In fact, it is the US’s refusal to follow through on the agenda it committed to that is keeping developing countries from achieving their potential.”

 Food aid

The draft text paves the way for the US and other food aid providers to dump cheap goods in local markets while allowing aid organizations to sell food produced in developed countries in developing markets to fund their programs. This section of the agreement shows the US government’s influence on the text, as the majority of the food aid text mirrors the US proposal. 

Regarding food aid provisions, Clarke said, “Given the food emergency in neighboring Ethiopia, the draft text on food aid is unconscionable. In 2005 the WTO committed to a ‘safe box’ for emergency aid to ensure that there are no unnecessary impediments to responding to food crises, but this draft text betrays that pledge and would  put hundreds of thousands of people at risk.”

“If the final text does not distinguish emergency aid from food aid more broadly, it will lead to  dumping cheap food into local markets, destroying the livelihoods of local African farmers – the very people that feed the continent.”

Cotton

Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Benin, with many farmers who depend on cotton for their livelihoods, have for many years been arguing against US subsidies to its industrial cotton farmers. US cotton is made cheaper than cotton from West Africa, undercutting income by many millions, but no progress has been made on this issue at the Nairobi talks. 

Marie Clarke said: “The unfair subsidies given by the US to a relatively small number of cotton farmers have pushed desperately poor families in other parts of the world into deep poverty. New laws in the US would even remove the few restrictions on these subsidies. It is a moral outrage that the world’s richest country will continue to sacrifice African farmers for the sake of a relatively small number of wealthy cotton farmers. This is the very essence of the gross inequality that has come to define the global economy.”   

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