Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, August 02, 2004

Mixed response to Doha rebirth
Delegates from the WTO's 140 member states argued late into the evening last night, but emerged with an interim document outlining key developments in breaking the deadlock between rich and poor countries and giving a December 2005 deadline to endeavour to conclude a new global trade deal. Whilst this should be heralded as great news, especially for our continent, any response has to be tempered by realism.

Here is a basic summary of the agreement reached:

  • All 147 members of the World Trade Organisation have agreed on the basis for talks on a trade deal, but still have months of hard negotiations ahead

  • Rich countries have agreed to eliminate all forms of export farm subsidies but can keep some of their domestic support

  • The deal includes a "down payment" that would see an immediate 20 per cent cut in the maximum permitted payments by rich nations

  • Europe's multibillion-pound sugar industry is still outside the negotiations
    West African states failed in their attempt to open separate negotiations over the US's $3bn (£1.65m) of subsidies for its cotton-growers

  • Poorer countries will have to cut import barriers under which the highest get cut the most

  • Developing countries have to negotiate on rules to make customs procedures easier and less expensive for business

  • The agreement culminates almost two years of behind the scenes campaigning by developing countries and the G20+, of which SA is a founder nation, and is a definite step in the right direction. The problem though, is that this is a tune we have heard before, and the document holds no inherent timelines or concrete stipulations; it is more a document of intent. The pursuit of wealth makes capitalist countries noisy neighbours in the quiet streets of philanthropy, and one cannot see developed countries losing protection over their major industries. Already, West African nations have been forced to drop their requests for an end to the $3bn in subsidies the US pays to its cotton farmers, which is killing African cotton production. This trumpets the path that will most likely be followed.

    The negotiators from developed countries hold all the aces here, and any final deal is likely to largely diluted in its power to bring rich nations to heel and uplift developing nations' economies. The retraction of developed nation protectionism and is an internationally recognised noble pursuit, but let's not forget that the wealth of these developed nations has often drawn its power from the colonial oppression of poorer nations, and the market positions subsequently enjoyed are not ones that will be relinquished easily. These trade talks extend influence not over charitable aid, but into the very structure of developed countries' economies and these rich countries have little incentive other than charity to appease this situation. One may argue that inaction will lead to further global poverty, but I'm not as left leaning as to concur that the developed nations are truly empathetic to their poorer global colleagues.

    Call me cynical, and perhaps I'll be proven wrong on this one, but I envisage that wealth will once again overcome wisdom on this one, and the poor nations will be left at the altar once again. It's a triumph for diplomacy that rich and poor nations managed to get back to the table after the debacle at Doha, but whether this will bring triumph for developing nations is a question with few positive answers.