Washington, DC—The moment of truth in the Doha round of negotiations came today in Geneva, according to international aid organization Oxfam America, when US Trade Representative Susan Schwab and trade ministers from five other key countries were only able agree on one thing: the political will is missing to bring about a new international trade deal that could pull millions out of poverty.
What distinguishes this failure, and makes it a tragedy according to the organization, is that these trade negotiations were launched for the express purpose of benefiting millions of poor people in developing countries around the world. The US and other countries made this commitment at the launch of these negotiations in 2001 and although the trade deal was supposed to be finished by 2004, talks have continued on life support, deadline after missed deadline.
“The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring about an international trading system that is not rigged for the rich and hurting the poor has been put on ice,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. ” Five years of haggling and debating have ended in a sad display of political failure.”
At the G8 meeting in St. Petersburg only a week ago, a spark of hope was lit when heads of state sent their trade ministers back to the table to negotiate, arming them with orders to be flexible. But today’s impasse shows that it was not enough. The central hurdle was, and remains, the trade distorting agricultural subsidy programs maintained by rich countries like the US and the agriculture tariffs maintained by the EU.
“With the livelihood of two billion farmers around the world hanging in the balance, many of them living on less than $1 a day, developing countries expected real improvements in agricultural trade rules”, continued Offenheiser. “But rich countries have not demonstrated real flexibility on agriculture trade; demanding concessions from each other and poor countries, while protecting their own markets and their massive agricultural subsidies.”
Although the US offered proposals that would make some adjustments to current subsidy programs, what was on the table was not enough to bring about an end to agricultural dumping and real opportunity for developing country exporters.
“The US was forced to defend a bloated 2002 Farm Bill that significantly increased trade-distorting subsidies for agriculture, including those for cotton that have been so devastating to African farmers, while demanding concessions from the EU and poor countries,” continued Offenheiser. “This left the USTR in an impossible negotiating position, and we are seeing the results of that today.”
The US has concentrated on negotiating bilateral trade agreements, such as the free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia. However, these trade agreements are small compared to the multilateral Doha negotiations. Oxfam argues that many of these bilateral agreements exacerbate existing inequities by forcing poorer countries to make deeper concessions, while gaining less than they would at the WTO.
“With this delay, the attention shifts to Congress,” continued Offenheiser. “In the upcoming negotiations for the Farm Bill, free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia and renewal of the President’s “fast-track” negotiating authority, Congress must re-evaluate current US trade strategy.”