July 29, 2008

WTO and the danger of compartalised thinking

The World Trade Organisation negotiations have collapsed after China and India took the view that no deal was better than a bad deal and the US wouldn't budge. It was billed as the 'development round', where issues such as rich countries dumping cut price goods on developing countries while shutting those countries out of their own markets were to be addressed. But, in the view of the developing countries - most of whom were shut out of the Green Room where negotiations took place - the rich world was more intent on gaining further access to their markets.

The Guardian reports:

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The US trade representative, Susan Schwab, said it was "unconscionable" that developing countries were insisting on shielding their farmers. "In the face of the food price crisis, it's ironic that the debate came down to how much and how fast could nations raise their barriers to imports of food."

Kamal Nath, India's trade minister, said he was representing the position of all the G33 members, who were "concerned about the livelihood of poor and subsistence farmers", and said he hoped the talks could eventually be revived.
---extract ends

Demonstrators in India were against a deal on opening their country to food imports. Developing countries have good reason to be wary. Case studies have shown what sometimes happens when developing countries are forced to open their markets. In Haiti tariffs on rice were cut from 50% to 3% and Christian Aid reports that Haiti has gone from being self-sufficient in food to using 80 per cent of its export earnings to pay for food imports. Rice production has fallen by almost half, and three-quarters of the rice consumed comes from the US. See The Guardian via:

That countries put their own best interests first - even if these means avoiding their human rights obligations - is not surprising. But governments are accused of following the demands of lobbyists rather than the greater good of their citizens as a whole, let alone the wider world.

The Simultaneous Policy approach has two great advantages over the 7 years of negotiations that failed this week.

Firstly, it encourages joined up thinking. Why is international trade - the movement of goods around the world - being discussed separately to climate change? A system that included the cost of pollution would encourage local production, processing and consumption, while items that need to be transported (such as agricultural goods from tropical countries) would still be economic - and sustainable - to transport.

Secondly, it encourages people around the world to participate in the policy development process. Certainly US farmers - and agrobusiness - who are subsidised to export their soya, cotton, corn and rice below cost price are likely to oppose measures that could have a negative impact on them. Those affected are welcome to sign up as Simultaneous Policy Adopters to make their case, but it has to be made transparently and it is for other Adopters to decide whether to accept their alternative suggestions or not. It provides a way for US citizens as a whole to reclaim their sovereignty. Farmers in India and Haiti have equal right to put forward their proposals.

For discussions that are already underway see the Simultaneous Policy Forum.

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