ActionAid is a global movement of people working together to further human rights for all and defeat poverty.
16th December 2015
First WTO Ministerial in Africa: ActionAid warns, “Don’t kill the consensus to use trade to support development!”
The stakes at this week’s World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting were escalated yesterday as the conference opened with its host, Kenyan Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, broaching the possibility that they may well decide to put an end to the WTO’s negotiating function altogether.
If the WTO no longer provided a forum where all nations have say in setting global trade deals, developing countries would be put at a serious disadvantage as talks would shift to regional and bilateral agreements where rich countries would have even more sway.
“Developing country governments should take this prospect as a call to action,” said Marie Clarke, Executive Director of ActionAid International USA. “They must assert their sovereignty and not be intimidated into agreeing to things that will deny their countries the benefits of world trade.”
“Three months ago the UN agreed a set of development goals, including the urgent reduction of gross inequalities and since 2001, the WTO has promised to right the imbalances in trade negotiations that have disproportionately favored developed nations.
“Giving up on the pledge the WTO made in 2001 to resolve the distortions that reinforce growing inequality between developed and developing countries would signal a radical capitulation by developing countries. It would also betray the consensus of the UN General Assembly that inequality is environmentally, economically, and politically unsustainable.”
Recent statements by negotiators appear to offer a dangerous quid pro quo: giving the US its goal of getting a raft of ‘new issues’ added to the WTO agenda in exchange for simply allowing negotiations on the Doha development agenda to continue.
Marie Clarke added: “Bringing in ‘new issues’ without resolving the development agenda risks diverting attention away from development and the unresolved inequalities in the global trading system. And without the assurances they need from the WTO development agenda, developing countries would be at an immediate disadvantage in tackling entirely new topics.
“The choice facing developing countries is between submitting to a plantation-model economy, in which rich countries make the rules, or standing firm and insisting on an equitable trade agreement that truly supports sustainable development.”
ActionAid is particularly concerned about the impact on small food producers – 2.5 billion people, or 35% of the world’s population who provide about 80% of the food we eat.
“Ethiopia today faces a food emergency involving at least eight million people. In this context it is unforgivable for the US and its allies in wealthy nations to attempt to deprive countries like Ethiopia from being able to ensure food security for their people. Developing countries must be able to create food stocks, support small producers and protect themselves from rich countries dumping products at below-market prices.”
ActionAid Responds to WTO Declaration
The WTO’s final declaration, which we understand the plenary has just confirmed, basically says the member governments agree to disagree on the most crucial and controversial issues.
Marie Clarke, Executive Director of ActionAAid US, said, “Simply noting that some governments want to continue work toward fulfilling the mandate to resolve development issues before moving on to others, while others wish to “explore new architectures,” disrespects both agreed WTO procedures and the continued needs and demands of those from poorer countries.
“By taking no position on the ‘Doha Development Agenda,’ we can now expect the question to be thrown to the lawyers. And we know that whoever has the most lawyers usually wins. But in either case, there has been no forward movement in Nairobi on reducing inequality between nations in global trade. The assurances that development will remain at the center of the trade agenda ring hollow given the lack of progress made on that agenda over the last 14 years.”
Clarke added: “Despite the fact that this same global body of nations agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals three months ago – one provision of which was to resolve the Doha Development Agenda – the WTO merely ‘recognized’ its role in attaining the SDGs, and even then with the caveat that it is subject to ‘the authority of the WTO Ministerial Conference.’ When even recognition of a platitude must be conditions, it does not bode well for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals or for reducing inequality between nations.
“The global consensus that unequal growth is not sustainable seems to have been forgotten here in Nairobi, where wealthy countries protected their interests at the expense of growth and opportunity through trade for Africa and other Least Developed Countries.”
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 organisationActionAid 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 iswhether trade deals will continue to be negotiated in anglobal 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.”
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.”
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 familiesin 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.”