Wednesday, July 26, 2006

WTO: the Doha Talks

"Somewhere between intensive care and the crematorium"

So says India's Trade and Industry Minister Kamal Nath of the failed negotiations on a new multilateral trade agreement that might have lifted millions of people (over 150 million, I read somewhere) out of bleak poverty. This, while wars continue to rage in the Middle East and Africa, and hunger and disease run rampant in the world.

It's a sadly familiar story of human intransigeance when confronted by the threat of the smallest sacrifice of their own narrow interests. These World Trade Organization talks have been going on for five years, and still there's no prospect of agreement. I mis-googled this morning in the attempt to inform myself a little better, and was startled to find that reports from 2004 could have been written today, two full years later. Said Pascal Lamy, director-general of the WTO, then: "We are all losers." And today: "We are in dire straits."

Who's fault is this? Depends who you talk to. "Peter Mandelson, Europe's trade commissioner, said that Washington was asking 'too much from others in exchange for doing too little themselves. This is not my definition of leadership,'" says the report in The Guardian The report continues: "Not so, said the US. Its mission in Geneva issued a statement calling the EU's accusations 'false and misleading'. Brussels, the US said, was trying to use 'loopholes' to wriggle out of opening up its agricultural market to competition from the more efficient producers on the other side of the Atlantic." Elsewhere, in a Washington Post report I found more of the Mandelson quote: "Surely the richest and strongest nation in the world, with the highest standard of living in the world, can afford to give as well as take." The failure of the talks, he said, "was neither desirable nor inevitable." Strong words.

So the EU blames the United States for its inflexibility on agricultural subsidies, while the US returns the compliment with the same complaint against the Eurpoean countries and throws in a gripe against India and Brazil for their failure to agree on cuts on tariffs for industrial imports. Such bickering, over an issue that is nothing less than life or death for millions. I can't pretend to have a grasp of the whole complex problem, but it's evident that the spoke in the wheels is the lack of flexibility on the part of all the participants, and that those who will suffer most as a result are the poorest nations, particularly in Africa.

There's another part to this sadly familiar story, Bush, and that's your part in it. There's a distinct pattern to the way in which you make grandiose promises to make yourself look good in the eyes of the nation or the world, then quietly step back from those promises when it's time to make good on them, or to step up to the plate with adequate funds to make them possible.

What, sacrifice? Who, me?


David said...

Even if, in a best case scenario, we manage to flush these people out in the next two elections, it's going to be a long time before our country regains any credibilty in the world.

GringoWithoutBorders said...

Was not there a movie about the harm that the WTO does to less developed countries. Does one really believe that USA, Britain, France, Germany ect.. is looking out for less developed countries at their own expense?

Three criticisms(from those against WTO) that I would tend to agree with:

1.)Many people argue that free trade does not make ordinary people's lives more prosperous but only results in the rich (both people and countries) becoming richer. WTO treaties have also been accused of a partial and unfair bias toward multinational corporations and wealthy nations.

2.)Also, critics contend that small countries in the WTO wield little influence, and despite the WTO aim of helping the developing countries, the influential nations in the WTO focus on their own commercial interests. They also claim that the issues of health, safety and environment are steadfastly ignored.

3.)Many criticise the WTO for reducing tariff protections for small farmers – a key source of income for developing countries – while allowing rich countries to continue to pay their farmers massive subsidies which developing countries cannot afford.

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