GENEVA - The industrialized world is acting with "duplicity" in the
WTO Doha Round trade negotiations, which threatens to turn the whole round of
development talks into a farce, according to the international humanitarian organization
The non-governmental group warns that with the way the negotiations are currently
proceeding, the Doha Round will end up allowing the wealthy nations to continue
the practice of dumping, or exporting goods at prices below the cost of production.
"Rich countries are dodging the commitments they have made to reduce subsidies
that hurt poor farmers overseas," said Celine Charveriat, spokeswoman for
Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign.
The Doha Round of negotiations was launched at the 4th Ministerial Conference
of the WTO (World Trade Organization) held in the Qatari capital in December
2001, with the aim of promoting further opening of international markets.
Since then, the talks have come up against countless obstacles and even moments
of complete stalemate, as was the case at the 5th WTO conference in September
2003 in the Mexican resort city of Cancún.
The Doha negotiating agenda encompasses various components of trade, such as
industrial tariffs, services, trade facilitation and fundamentally agriculture,
the subject of a new study released by Oxfam on Wednesday.
The document focuses particular emphasis on Europe and the United States, which
"claim to have cut their subsidies over the years but to date, there has
been no substantial reduction, merely a re-labeling of existing support,"
noted Charveriat, the head of Oxfam International in Geneva.
The research conducted by the humanitarian agency established that since 1986,
the beginning of the previous series of trade negotiations known as the Uruguay
Round, the assistance provided to farmers in the industrialized nations has
consistently remained at levels of over 250 billion dollars annually.
In particular, Oxfam has calculated that the EU and the United States are massively
understating the real levels of export subsidization.
The United States provides hidden aid that is 200 times greater than the amount
it declares, to the tune of 6.6 billion dollars annually, says Oxfam. For its
part, the EU pays out 5.2 billion dollars in secret assistance - four times
more than the sum it acknowledges in the WTO.
Export subsidies are only one of the many forms of support given to farmers
in the industrialized countries, which have been classified into different "boxes",
the Oxfam representative explained.
Only payments that fell into the amber box, that is, the category for subsidies
that were unequivocally trade-distorting, were liable to be cut during the Uruguay
Green box exemptions are support measures that were considered non trade-distorting,
while blue box exemptions were the category used for payments that were trade-distorting,
but included an element of production limitation.
But the Oxfam report reveals that instead of making substantial cuts to its
domestic support measures, the EU and the United States have merely re-classified
the subsidies they provide in a practice known as "box shifting".
Subsidies that previously fell into the amber box and were thus subject to
elimination have been moved into the blue or green boxes, for measures that
are minimally or non-trade-distorting.
Argentine WTO representative Alberto Dumont remarked that "one of the
problems we are coming up against in the negotiations is what is known as box
shifting, or the moving of subsidies into different boxes."
This operation consists of changing measures from amber to blue, and moving
programs that are now in the blue box into the green box. "In fact, we
are adapting trade realities to the situation in the United States, since we
are creating another box specifically for that country," said Dumont.
In other words, there is going to be a modified blue box, he explained.
Given this situation, Charveriat warned that "the rich countries could
even increase their massive agricultural subsidies if world trade negotiations
do not change track."
The Doha Round will face a decisive test in December, when the 6th WTO Ministerial
Conference in Hong Kong assesses the current state of negotiations.
Dumont said the alliance of countries pushing for a greater freeing up of agricultural
trade, known as the Group of 20 (G-20), have issued firm proposals to prevent
box shifting and press for an actual reduction of domestic support.
The G-20, formed in the days prior to the Cancún conference, deals solely
with agricultural trade issues and is coordinated by Brazil and India.
The Argentine WTO negotiator noted that the G-20 is also demanding changes
in the criteria for green box measures, so that they solely include income supports
for farmers that are not related to (or are "decoupled" from) production
levels or prices.
The Oxfam report released Wednesday calls on the 148 WTO member states to set
an end date of 2010 for export subsidies. The organization is also demanding
recognition of the right of poor countries to protect vulnerable sectors as
long as dumping continues.
Charveriat stressed that alongside development aid and debt relief, trade reform
is crucial to help end poverty in the developing world.