News and Information

Pressure and Intimidation Rife at Start of WTO Meeting
July 27, 2004

ActionAid (London)

July 27, 2004
Posted to the web July 27, 2004


On the first day of the WTO General Council meeting in Geneva, poor countries are coming under intense pressure to accept proposals pushed by rich countries, such as the EU, US and Japan, to break the deadlock around international trade talks. This intimidation comes at a crucial time, as a new draft negotiation framework is due out tomorrow.

“Behind closed doors developing countries are being pressured to accept trade deals that will provide no benefits for the world’s poorest people. If the WTO does not open its doors and allow democracy and transparency, developing countries may be forced to accept a negotiation framework that is nothing more than a manifesto for the self-interest of the world’s richest countries,” said Aftab Alam Khan, head of ActionAid’s food rights campaign.

In the run-up to the General Council there have been intensive meetings to try and get consensus around international trade talks, stalled since the collapse of the WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico last September. A draft negotiation text was released two weeks ago but it has been heavily criticised for reflecting only the interests of an elite group of countries.

Last night a small group of countries met to discuss the increasingly controversial issue of Non Agricultural Market Access (NAMA). This issue is particularly important to poor countries because cheap imports could harm the future of their industrial development. Rich countries are pushing for WTO members to accept a text on the issue that was rejected at the Cancún Ministerial. There have also been elite group meetings, known as ‘green rooms’, on the issue of trade facilitation. Many developing countries have already voiced their opposition to starting talks on this issue, which is about business procedures rather than tariffs.

“Secretive meetings are taking place that will decide the future of world trade. How can the WTO possibly claim to represent all its members if they are locked out of the meetings that will form the basis for negotiations. The EU and US must listen to developing countries and not try and use this gathering as an opportunity to reintroduce proposals that were rejected months ago,” said Ziaul Hoque Mukta, from ActionAid Bangladesh.

Proposals on agriculture, one of the key issues of contention, are currently being compiled. Agreement will not be easy as the EU and US have different positions in the key areas of subsidies and agricultural protection. It is also feared that African countries have come under intense pressure to accept cotton subsidies under the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture. Yet in a recent WTO ruling, US cotton subsidies were declared illegal. ActionAid calls for the immediate elimination of US cotton subsidies to address the plight of more than 10 million farmers in West Africa.


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