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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Hedayat Abdel Nabi, "Breakdown of talks is good news for developing world," KUNA (Kuwait News Agency), July 2, 2006.

GENEVA, July 2 (KUNA) -- The breakdown of trade talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Saturday after a three-day marathon negotiations is not bad news but good news for the developing countries.

In trade terminology the ordinary man and woman in the street would fail to understand what is going on in Geneva at the WTO.

If the reader looks into terms like the Amber box and the Blue box then the reader will really get lost. But to make it simple, what is it at the core of those trade talks? The core of the talks is that one side would like to keep all the prevailing advantages of having made an illustrious economic and industrial advance at the expense of millions of people around the globe. To put it in simpler terms, if the current negotiations were successful; in countries like Brazil, 2.8 million people's jobs in steel, automobile, wood processing, paper products leather processing, textiles, capital goods and chemicals would be lost.

In the automobile industry, 10 million workers in India alone will be affected when competitive foreign companies enter the market and displace local industry.

Action Aid, a leading NGO defending the interests of the ordinary man and woman on the street, says that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost in China, Brazil, India, South East Asia, Central America and the Caribbean. WTO members felt this time the real sense of exclusion because of the negotiating procedure which boils down to the G-6 formula of six ministers from the United States, European Union, Brazil, India, Japan and Australia, who negotiate among themselves and with the WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy on behalf of their regional groups, members of the WTO. India and Brazil represent the bulk of the world's population that is some 110 countries most of them facing an uphill battle with poverty and unemployment. India's trade minister Kamal Nath's walk out from the negotiations Saturday was the first signal of the failure of the talks, but at the same time it reflected a new world landscape for the G-110, where when united and not subject to pressure can make a difference for their people and the emerging trade balance power. The Kenyan minister, chairman of the African group trade ministers, Mukhisa Kituya said that he is not a foreign minister and does not need to be diplomatic, yes the talks have failed. The representatives of the helpless and the voiceless described the Geneva meeting as an illegitimate Mini Ministerial which Lamy convened in Geneva, and that assessments of the outcome of the Doha Round, from a variety of institutions, including the World Bank and the EU's own Sustainability Impact Assessment, have already predicted that the Round would have adverse impacts on the poorest countries, particularly countries in Africa. The first reaction of NGOs to the good news of breakdown of talks was expressed by Trade Justice Campaign Director of Action Aid Aftab Alam who said that rich countries particularly the US have failed again to understand the issues of the poor being flagged up by the poor countries.

Both the US and the EU have been aggressive in demanding for market access in industrial products, and the US for more access in agriculture. Yet despite being the prime culprits for dumping their agricultural products on the world market, causing destruction to the livelihoods of subsistence farmers, both these giants have only offered cosmetic cuts in their agricultural domestic supports. According to Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South, "The US is so intransigent; there are no prospects to get a fair deal. The developing countries should cease being part of this charade and abandon these talks, which they should have done long ago." Bello says that the danger of the current impasse is that the Director General, Pascal Lamy is likely to see this as his opportunity to play an even more aggressive role in stitching an agreement together. The WTO Secretariat is supposed to be a neutral party in the negotiations, yet Lamy has clearly overstepped his mandate. Lamy had urged members to converge on the magic "20" number, that is, converging on the G20 proposal of 54% tariff cuts; 20 billion for US "trade distorting" domestic supports; and a maximum tariff of 20 in industrial products for the developing world. US "trade distorting" supports in 2005 amounted to only USD 19.7 billion. Bello added that this means the US will be let off the hook in domestic supports (although it would not be easy for them to increase their supports in the future). "Yet Lamy's suggestion requires the developing world to cut their industrial tariffs, in some cases, into their applied rates. The sectors that will be affected include textiles and clothing, automobiles, plastics, etc. Trade unions in the South are already predicting unemployment by the hundreds of thousands," says Bello. Bello noted that Lamy is in the habit of organizing decision-making meetings which exclude the majority e.g. the present Mini Ministerial. "Who is allowed into these meetings is decided by the highest echelons in the Secretariat. Whilst no decisions are formally made in the Green Room, in practice, Green Room decisions are filtered straight into plenary meetings and endorsed. Unless a country is politically powerful, it is near impossible for them to block these decisions," Bello noted. One prominent trade activist Aileen Kwa of Focus on the Global South said that Pascal Lamy cannot be trusted as a neutral player. "He is leading the multilateral trading institution in completely the wrong direction. The Doha agenda and Lamy's magic "20" puts in jeopardy the WTO's own stated objectives - to strive for full employment and to improve the welfare of people. US, EU and Pascal Lamy's narrow focus on market access serves the interests of the world's transnational corporation," she added. Kwa stressed that the WTO needs a complete overhaul - where rules priorities not liberalization or a pretense of liberalization, as is the case with the US, but economic and human rights and the livelihoods of people.

Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign of OXFAM commented on the good news of the breakdown of the talks that activist groups reject the idea that developing countries must accept deep cuts in tariffs in exchange for an end to unfair trade practices in the North. "Any solution must protect the ability of poor countries to implement policies to develop their economies and meet the needs of their people. No sustainable solution can involve deepening poverty and unemployment in countries that already suffer from joblessness and hunger," she added. Ultimately, too, she said, any agreement that undermines development in the South will also undermine conditions for working people in the North. She clearly advocated avoiding unrealistically tight deadlines and reject apparent compromises that would undermine the developmental impact of the round. "No compromise proposals should be tabled by the Director General until the parties have considerably narrowed their differences through broad, open consultation and discussion," she stressed. This meeting, she stressed, was counter-productive. "The atmosphere is more poisonous now than before and ministers are leaving without a roadmap for July. It's impossible to see how a decent agreement can be resurrected from this chaos," said Celine Charveriat. The silver lining, she added, is that developing countries are resolute and united in insisting that rich countries deliver on long-standing promises. When the G110, she added, had to remind their rich country partners of such an obvious principle this shows how terribly wrong this process is going. Zambian trade minister and coordinator of the least developed countries (LDCs) Deepak Patel at the conclusion of the failed negotiations said that people in the rich North should be ashamed. "We did not accept pressure, enough of that, and we will not be blamed for any failure," he added. The G-110 ministers collectively noted that the ball now is in the other court. "Any attempt now by rich countries to blame developing countries like the G33 - countries like Uganda , Haiti, Cote d'Ivoire - is a new low. Rich countries are spending all their energy on winning the blame game, and not enough on finding solutions to deliver a development round," she added. Alex Wijeratna from Action Aid noted that steep cuts in tariffs, as demanded by the rich countries, could cost developing countries some USD 63 billion obtained from Tax imports. "Funding for education, health and other public services could be dramatically cut back and poverty will increase," stressed Wijeratna. So what is unfolding in the new trade equation? What is unfolding without reservation is the emerging consciousness of the people's official representatives with Human Rights in trade. During the Uruguay Round in the 90s this core issue was not a pressing issue, and maybe because of the absence of the global culture the peoples of the world were not clearly aware about the negative and adverse impact of unjust trade liberalization. Truly a new axis is evolving on the level of Human Rights and Trade related topics. The WTO is at a close distance from where the Human Rights Council convenes at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The new Council was resurrected from the previous "discredited Commission" so as to block issues like the human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and other issues that annoy Israel the brutal occupying power, but this did not work, and next week the new Council will address the issue because of the unity of many countries behind the oppressed the Palestinian people. A few blocks away at the WTO 110 countries are blocking an unjust deal by the rich to defend the oppressed of the world, which leads to a final question: are we in the era of the supremacy of the oppressed against the oppressor? The new landscape is evolving; a landscape of new balance of power from trade to human rights, and the traditional guardians of human rights and justice have given their back to their founding fathers, while the oppressed are digging for their rights from the mass graves of poverty and injustice. (end)
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