[R-G] The death of Doha

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Wed Jul 30 23:32:58 MDT 2008

  Jul 31, 2008
The death of Doha
By Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA - The Doha Round of multilateral trade talks was brought  
crashing down late on Tuesday by the same discrepancies between rich  
and poor countries that have marked the nearly seven years of  
negotiations from the outset.

An insurmountable rift between the United States on one hand and China  
and India on the other ended the emergency conference of ministers  
called by the World Trade Organization (WTO), which had stretched into  
its ninth day of sessions.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana interpreted the collapse of  
the talks as the failure of an attempt by industrialised countries to  
give very little and ask for a lot, which was simply not

accepted, in general terms, by the developing countries, he told Inter  
Press Service (IPS).

What ultimately sparked what is seen by many participants as an  
international disaster was an issue that is dear to developing  
countries: the establishment of a mechanism of special safeguards that  
would allow developing countries to raise tariffs on farm imports when  
they reach a certain level and begin to threaten the livelihoods of  
poor farmers

"It is unbelievable that we have failed over one issue," said  
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim. "Not that the issue is not  
important for some countries, but many other much more intractable  
issues were overcome."

WTO director general Pascal Lamy said agreements had been reached on  
18 issues out of a list of 20, but that the gap could not be closed on  
number 19.

The United States opposed the safeguard clauses, arguing that they  
could give rise to abuses, while China and India demanded the  
mechanism as a way of defending livelihoods, food security and rural  
development for farmers in developing countries.

The difference kept the ministers from the roughly 30 countries who  
met last week and the representatives of the rest of the WTO's 153  
member states from reaching an agreement on the parameters for talks  
on agriculture and non-agricultural market access.

Conceived in the Qatari capital in November 2001 with the aim of  
sending a message of solidarity to a world shaken by the 9/11  
terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the Doha Round of talks  
is failing against a backdrop of threats of new crises involving food  
and oil prices and climate change.

"In the face of a global food price crisis, we simply could not agree  
to a result that would raise more barriers to world food trade," said  
US Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

Carin Smaller, of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy  
(IATP), said "the US argued that opening markets was the best way" to  
achieve food security and to promote livelihoods. "India and China, in  
contrast, with the support of the majority of developing country  
members, argued for a strong safeguard mechanism to protect food  
security and livelihoods in the event of major disruptions to  
agriculture markets."

Mexico's Deputy Finance Minister Beatriz Leycegui said the failure of  
the Doha Round is a loss to the whole world because it comes at a time  
of severe economic crisis, in the midst of protectionism and loss of  
credibility for the multilateral system. Under these conditions,  
reaching an agreement was urgent, she said.

Lamy accepted that the Doha meeting had collapsed. "We will have to  
let the dust settle a bit," he said about future WTO negotiations.  
However, he insisted that he had not "thrown in the towel".

Alfredo Chiaradํa, secretary of international trade relations at the  
Argentine Foreign Ministry, said that in the last meeting of ministers  
on Tuesday, some expressed an interest in attempting to revive the  

Leycegui said Mexico had insisted on not "tossing in the garbage  
everything that has been achieved" in the nine days of negotiations.  
"It is frustrating because we thought an agreement was near, but  
political commitment was lacking."

Anne-Laure Constantin, another IATP expert, told IPS she hoped that  
the WTO member countries "will be creative enough to think about  
another way to address trade at the multilateral level, which is more  
adapted to the new conditions and really helps countries deal with the  
crises they have to face in food, energy and climate.''
The Doha talks were supposed to be a development round, to favor the  
poorest countries, which makes their failure especially frustrating,  
said Taiana.

Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, said, "This is a major  
disappointment. At a time when food and fuel prices are high and the  
global economic outlook is uncertain, the world's poorest people are  
increasingly vulnerable. A decent trade deal could have given them a  
chance to prevent worsening poverty."

Aftab Alam Khan of ActionAid, said, "The responsibility for the  
failure lies squarely with the US and EU, who could not think beyond  
the interests of their huge transnational businesses that want to grab  
more and more market opportunities in poor countries. For the US and  
the EU to blame China and India for the collapse is just laughable."

In Amorim's view, "any outside observer would not believe that after  
the progress made we were not able to conclude the talks."

(Inter Press Service)

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(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Jul 29, 2008)

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