Concessions to India finally clinch global trade deal

Phillip Inman

Anti-poverty groups condemn the first global trade deal since the creation of the World Trade Organisation.

The Doha round of talks, which began 12 years ago with high hopes of a deal, was considered to be dead by many delegates. (AFP)

The first global trade deal since the creation of the World Trade Organisation nearly two decades ago has been condemned by anti-poverty groups as a boost for big business at the expense of developing nations.

After 12 years of talks, an agreement drafted by WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo was signed last Saturday by ministers from the body's 159 member countries after last-minute concessions to India over food security.

An agreement with India, which has sought protection for its poorest farmers from United States firms dumping surplus agricultural produce, was crucial to a comprehensive deal being struck.

The deal aims to reduce red tape at customs, give improved terms of trade to the poorest countries and offer developing countries leeway to bypass the normal rules on farm subsidies to feed the poor.

It could also revive confidence in the WTO's ability to negotiate global trade deals following several bilateral talks between the major trading blocs that have left the body at risk of collapse.

Tense negotiations in recent weeks followed 20 years of bitter disputes as developing countries have attempted to protect their fledgling agricultural and industrial sectors while allowing them access to markets in the rich West.

The Doha round of talks
The Doha round of talks, which began 12 years ago with high hopes of a deal, was considered to be dead as late as Thursday last week by many delegates.

India, whose government faces the risk of losing elections next year, has said its tough stance drew support from developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America, though the meeting's host, Indonesia, pressed for it to soften its position.

"We are trying to get justice for the poor people," Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma said as he entered the final day of the meeting.

India will implement a welfare programme next year to provide cheap food to 800-million people that was likely to contravene WTO rules curbing farm subsidies to 10% of production. The programme, which relies on large-scale stockpiling and the offer to pay farmers a minimum price, is a central plank in the government's bid to win a third term.

Supporters of the WTO deal argue it will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy. A report by the Peterson Institute in Washington said it would add $960-billion through extra trade and employment.

But the World Development Movement (WDM) warned that it is "an agreement for transnational corporations, not the poor".

The positive side
Nick Dearden, director of the WDM, said: "On the positive side, developing countries have forced concessions on to the pro-corporate agenda of the United States and European Union.

However, those concessions are only the minimum necessary to get through what remains a deal for corporations, not for the world's poor.

"Here in Bali, social movements, trade unions and campaign groups have supported the efforts of developing countries to get a deal which moves the agenda away from a pro-corporate charter and towards something that asserts the rights and needs of the majority of the world's population," he said.

Critics of the deal also argue that the tortuous construction of clauses in the text makes some parts of the agreement meaningless.

"The food security fix is something out of 1984 — George Orwell would be proud," said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade at the Swiss University of St Gallen.

"The food security text is so contradictory that there must be an informal understanding among the big players as to what it really means," he said. — © Guardian News & Media 2013

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