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Rob Zerban Trans Pacific Partnership Anti-poverty groups condemn WTO pact as big business boost
Sunday, 08 December 2013 15:55

Anti-poverty groups condemn WTO pact as big business boost

Written by  Phillip Inman | The Guardian
A street market in the old quarters of Delhi. India sought safeguards, at the WTO, from US agricultural surpluses. A street market in the old quarters of Delhi. India sought safeguards, at the WTO, from US agricultural surpluses. Ahmad Masood/Reuters

Developing countries including India win concessions but critics say World Trade Organisation is no forum for helping the poor. The first global trade deal since the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) nearly two decades ago was condemned by anti-poverty groups on Friday as a boost for big business at the expense of developing nations.

After 12 years of talks, an agreement drafted by WTO director general Roberto Azevedo was due to be signed by ministers from the body's 159 member countries on Friday night after last-minute concessions to India over food security.

An agreement with India, which has sought protection for its poorest farmers from US firms dumping surplus agricultural produce, was crucial to a comprehensive deal being struck at the meeting.

Barring any last-minute veto, the deal will be passed and aims to reduce red tape at customs, give improved terms of trade to the poorest countries, and offer developing countries leeway to bypass the normal rules on farm subsidies to feed the poor.

It would also revive confidence in the WTO's ability to negotiate global trade deals following a string of bilateral talks between the major trading blocs that have left the body at risk of collapse.

"We are very close," WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said at the meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. "As things stand now, the prospects are promising."

Tense negotiations in recent weeks ahead of the meeting followed 20 years of bitter disputes as developing countries have attempted to protect their fledgling agricultural and industrial sectors while allowing them access to markets in the rich west. The Doha round of talks, which began 12 years ago with high hopes of a deal, was considered to be dead as late as Thursday night by many delegates.

India, whose government faces the risk of losing elections next year, has said its tough stance drew support from developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America, though the meeting's host, Indonesia, pressed for it to soften its position.

"We are trying to get justice for the poor people," Indian trade minister Anand Sharma said as he entered the final day of the meeting.

India will implement a welfare programme next year to provide cheap food to 800 million people that was likely to contravene WTO rules curbing farm subsidies to 10% of production.

The programme, which relies on large-scale stockpiling and the offer to pay farmers a minimum price, is a central plank of the government's bid to win a third term.

Supporters of the WTO deal argue it will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy. A report by the Peterson Institute in Washington argued it would add $960bn (£587bn) through extra trade and employment.

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."

Dearden said a succession of planned bilateral deals on a range of goods and services threatened the WTO and represented "the biggest shift of power from people to corporations that we have seen in 10 years" and must be "halted in their tracks." The EU has recently begun talks with the Obama administration on a wide-ranging trade deal outside the confines of the WTO.

Critics of the deal also argue that the tortuous construction of clauses in the text make some parts of the agreement meaningless.

"The food security fix is something out of 1984, George Orwell would be proud," said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade at the Swiss University of St Gallen.

"The food security text is so contradictory that there must be an informal understanding among the big players as to what it really means."

Azevedo, a former Brazilian trade negotiator, told delegates at the start of the last day of talks that there was more work to be done, but sounded upbeat on prospects for success.

Rockwell said: "He told members they were now very close to something that has eluded us for many years and that the decisions over the next few hours would have great significance beyond this day."

Link to original article from The Guardian

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