WASHINGTON, DC — Despite last week's commitment by the G8 to finalize the stagnant Doha trade talks by 2010, international aid organization Oxfam America warned that much more is needed to reform world rules to capitalize the power of trade to lift people out of poverty, and called on WTO members to re-think the course of the negotiations.
"Resuscitating Doha is essential to right the rigged rules of trade, but what's been simmering on the WTO stove will simply not deliver for poor countries, said Oxfam America president Raymond C. Offenheiser. "The financial crisis, which started in developed countries but is taking its worst toll on developing countries, should be the impetus for a change in course."
In a new report released today called "Empty Promises," Oxfam details how the Doha Round has become an exercise in prying open developing country markets rather than an effort to rebalance decades of unfair agricultural and industrial trade rules. In the midst of a global economic crisis, a food crisis, and a climate crisis, nations with the least blame and with the least capacity to cope with the consequent effects must not have to pay even more to enable their economies to develop, according to the report.
Over 50 million people stand to lose their jobs, remittances are collapsing, and growth in sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to fall by 70 percent this year trapping 90 million more people in poverty, because of the crisis. Food prices meanwhile remain high for poor consumers: by the end of 2008 a further 109 million people had been added to the ranks of hungry, topping 1 billion people worldwide. As the world experiences the sharpest drop in trade in 80 years, a "development" trade deal—as originally promised—remains crucial, according to Oxfam.
"Now is the time for WTO members to come back to the negotiating table, recognize that the current crisis provides an opportunity to address urgent development needs, and change the course of negotiations, much as they did nearly eight years ago in Doha," said Offenheiser. "At this time of desperate need for a change of course, the Doha Round has to step up to deliver on its development promise. There is little credit left for another failure."
The welcome political commitment from the G8 could lead to a fresh start to negotiations, but it cannot be business as usual. In the past eight years, developed countries have used the talks to continue to push to open up new export markets. Developing countries have resisted, saying they were promised a deal that would give them space to protect their farmers and new industries, an end to rich country trade-distorting agricultural subsidies, and more access to rich markets for their farmers and industries.
The widespread food price crisis has shown that food and livelihood security cannot depend solely on market forces. Development, rather than liberalization, has to be the central objective of negotiations and trade rules must respond to the needs of the most vulnerable people first and foremost, according to Oxfam. It is the responsibility of WTO member states to analyze the role of trade in the recent global crises so that the Doha negotiations take into account the new global context and contribute to a solution, rather than exacerbate the problem.
"What's on the table is no silver bullet since it continues to favor the richest and biggest farmers and industrialists in the US and Europe and sidelines the needs of the poor," said Offenheiser. "We have seen what can be done when countries find the resolve to avert problems at home, and this resolve must be translated to the multilateral trade agenda so that the much-needed conclusion of the Doha Round can be achieved in a manner that addresses developing country needs first and foremost."