Monday, July 03, 2006


For most WTO watchers, the breakdown of the talks over the weekend was expected. Negotiating positions of most major countries have been so far apart in the key areas of agriculture and non-agricultural market access, that too much was left for the ministers to accomplish.

Since the beginning of the Doha Round, the developed and developing countries have differed considerably as to what should be a realistic outcome of the current round. Developing countries have argued the negotiating outcomes should give them the policy flexibilities necessary to pursue their development goals, since the Doha Round was pursuing what was conceived as a ‘Development Agenda.’ This essentially meant their development concerns, which in agriculture implied addressing food security and livelihood, should get primacy. But the developed countries saw the talks as an opportunity to further trade liberalisation through across-the-board tariff reductions. These countries felt developing countries could be given only limited flexibilities to address their development concerns.

It is in agriculture that there are seemingly irreconcilable differences. While the developed set of countries is only interested in securing market access through tariff reductions, they are not willing to effect meaningful reductions in farm subsidies. Developing countries have consistently argued that farm subsidies have created a discriminatory regime that has undermined the interests of their farmers.

While several of these countries have not been able to realise their potential in global markets, as they cannot compete with the subsidised products, many others have found their domestic markets swamped by cheap imports originating in developed countries. It was logical to argue, which developing countries have done, that developed countries must establish their commitment to the functioning of a non-discriminatory trading system by reducing their farm subsidies.

Clearly, this is not going to happen anytime soon. But the developing countries must ensure their core concerns are addressed, and that food security and livelihood concerns are reflected adequately in any deal that is done.

A critical aspect of the negotiations in the ensuing weeks and months is the process that is gone through. WTO director-general Pascal Lamy has already indicated members have asked him to try to broker a compromise “as soon as possible.” It is doubtful if this approach can at all substitute a negotiated deal — history shows the pitfalls of a “brokered deal” can come back and haunt many countries, particularly in the developing world.


The WTO should have been eliminated the day it was started. It did not alleviate and instead, introduced poorer countries into heavier debts. It did not seek to solve and has never addressed the issue of livelihood. 10 years on, the world has grown sick of the speech generated by the WTO. We want action. We want it now!

We have worked hard to secure a no deal at last December, Ministerial Conference. This September, delegetes from all over the world will attend the IMF/WB Annual Meeting in Singapore. The World Bank has openly called for protestors to take to the street.

We have helped those who were unable to help themselves in Hong Kong last year. This year, let's take to the streets of Singapore and end the selfish agendas of the International Financial Institutions!

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