HONG KONG – (December 12, 2005) Rich countries meeting this week in Hong Kong must make progress on agricultural reform as the key to unlocking stalled trade talks and stop asking for so much from developing countries in other areas, said international agency Oxfam today. The negotiations are not on track to help developing countries despite promises of movement on key 'development' issues, Oxfam warned on the eve of the official opening of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial.
Trade has the potential to lift millions out of poverty. The current round of trade talks underway in Hong Kong, called the “Doha round”, was supposed to create trade rules that would benefit poor countries.
The so-called 'development package', which has been flagged up by rich countries as a potential outcome of the meeting, and which could include duty and quota free access for poorest countries and more aid for trade, must not be offered as substitute for an overall deal that is pro-development, said the agency.
Phil Bloomer, Head of Oxfam International's Make Trade Fair campaign said: "Action on issues of importance to developing countries, like cotton, aid for trade, and duty free quota free access, would be welcome but it must be part of a bigger deal that addresses the significant harm caused by rich countries' agricultural policies. It must not be a 'sweetener' to disguise the bitter taste of a bad deal overall."
"There can be no pro-development round without meaningful progress on agriculture. What is on the table now from the EU and US is not good enough," he added.
Oxfam also warned that any progress on agriculture that Ministers might make at the meeting was in danger of being cancelled out by damaging agreements on services and industrial market access.
Bloomer: "The content of the proposals on industry and services is extremely worrying and the pressure being put on poor countries to make further concessions is unacceptable. There is nothing here for development and unless rich countries reduce their demands and grant developing countries room to protect jobs and fledgling industries, the results will be devastating."
In a new move, the US suggested today that they were willing to offer some form of duty and quota free access to the poorest countries to match the EU's Everything But Arms initiative, but stressed that there would have to be 'exceptions' and 'flexibilities'. Oxfam welcomed the move but said they must not offer duty free and quota free access 'in name only' but make sure products of interest to developing countries – like textiles – were included in the offer.