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Sunday, 08 December 2013 16:02

WTO agreement condemned as deal for corporations, not world's poor

Written by  Phillip Inman | The Guardian

First global trade deal in 20 years to boost world commerce 'favours big business at the expense of developing countries' The World Trade Organisation has sealed its first global trade deal after almost 160 ministers who had gathered on the Indonesian island of Bali agreed to reforms to boost world commerce.

The agreement, which was criticised by anti-poverty charities, came after intense lobbying by India over measures to protect its poorest farmers. A last-minute compromise between the US and Cuba was also needed over references in the final draft to the continuing trade embargo of the Caribbean island.

"For the first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered," WTO chief Roberto Azevedo told exhausted ministers after the talks which had dragged into an extra day on the tropical resort island.

"This time the entire membership came together. We have put the 'world' back in World Trade Organisation," he said. "We're back in business … Bali is just the beginning."

At the heart of the agreement were measures to ease barriers to trade by reducing import duties, simplifying customs procedures and making those procedures more transparent to end years of corruption at ports and border controls.

Tense negotiations in recent weeks ahead of the meeting followed 20 years of bitter disputes as developing countries attempted to protect their fledgling agricultural and industrial sectors while allowing them access to markets in the rich west.

John Cridland, head of the Confederation of British Industry, said commitments to streamline customs procedures and cut red tape would help British exporters to move their products more efficiently around the world.

"With many British businesses looking further afield at new export markets, this deal is good news," he said.

"Now we need to see ambitious bilateral trade and investment agreements with the US and Japan to provide an additional boost to UK export performance over the long term."

But the World Development Movement (WDM) warned it was "an agreement for transnational corporations, not the world's poor".

Nick Dearden, director of the WDM, said: "On the positive side, developing countries have forced concessions on to the pro-corporate agenda of the US and EU. However, those concessions are only the minimum necessary to get through what remains a deal for corporations, not for the world's poor.

"Here in Bali, social movements, trade unions and campaign groups have supported the efforts of developing countries to get a deal which moves the agenda away from a pro-corporate charter and towards something that asserts the rights and needs of the majority of the world's population," he said.

"The aggressive stance of the US and EU means that we have moved only a little, and shows again that the WTO can never be a forum for creating a just and equal global economic system."

Critics of the deal also argued that the persistent disputes wrecked any chance of a far-reaching programme of reform.

"Beyond papering over a serious dispute on food security, precious little was progress was made at Bali," said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland.

"Dealing with the fracas on food security sucked the oxygen out of the rest of the talks."

The WTO was formed in January 1995 after the Uruguay round trade negotiations spanning 1986-94 were completed.

Link to original article from The Guardian

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