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You are here: Home / Media / Archive / 2006 / 0515trade

0515trade

media advisory
friends of the earth international
may 15, 2006

trade: us corporate interests threaten rural poor and the environment


GENEVA (SWITZERLAND), May 15, 2006 – Civil society groups from around the world gather at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva this week to protest against the US, European and other exporting countries’ aggressive attempts to open developing country markets.

The groups, including Friends of the Earth International, are calling on a set of developing countries known as the G33 to strengthen their stance at the WTO on protecting small farmers and the poor around the world. [1]

A furious row erupted ahead of today’s WTO General Council meeting [2] , between the United States administration and developing countries over the future of millions of small farmers and the rural poor in the developing world [3]

The G33 [4] has consistently called for exemptions for ‘special products’ (SP) in agriculture, and special safeguard measures (SSM) to ward off import surges, in order to ensure food security and to protect millions of people dependent upon small-scale farming from the impacts of cheap subsidized food imports. Previous controversial and disputed WTO agreements [5]have depended on and only moved forward because of agreement on this specific issue.

Yet during detailed discussions over the past few months pressure from the US and supporting countries [6] has forced the G33 to scale back its original ambition. The G33 is now only proposing protection for 20% of developing countries’ agricultural tariff lines [7].

Yet on 24 April, the US administration tabled a paper [8] attacking even this reduced level of ambition and it appears to have the support of the New Zealand Chair of the Committee on Agriculture [9]. One outraged WTO ambassador has commented that this type of approach would ‘decimate the entire rural populations of the poor developing countries’[10].

The US and New Zealand are also leading a group of countries insisting on complete or sharp liberalization in natural resource sectors including forest products and fish and fish products [11]. Diverting natural resources to exports could lead to further severe economic impacts for poor communities directly dependent upon these resources for their livelihoods [12] . 350 million people living in, or next to dense forests relying on them for subsistence or income and 60 million indigenous people are directly dependent upon forest resources for all their needs – for food and fuel, medicines and materials. Some 36 million people are directly employed in small-scale artisanal fishing [13].

Ronnie Hall of friends of the earth international said:
“It’s a complete joke that many of the same people who originally branded the current negotiations the ‘Doha Development Agenda’, to entice developing countries into participating, are now blatantly trying to use them to stop any attempts at fair and sustainable development. The G33 must make sure poor peoples’ livelihoods and their environment are protected from the WTO.”

All agricultural products should be considered as special products and therefore exempt from trade liberalization. Food and agriculture should be taken out of the WTO and the liberalization of natural resources should be stopped.


for more information contact:

Ronnie Hall, friends of the earth international (in Geneva 15-17 May)
Tel: + 44 7967 017281, or e-mail

Sonja Meister, friends of the earth europe (in Geneva 15-17 May)
Tel: +32 48 49 75 107, or e-mail

Alberto Villareal, Friends of the Earth Uruguay/REDES (in Uruguay)
+59899 523 382 , or e-mail:

David Waskow, friends of the earth US (in Washington)
Tel: +1- 202 492-4660 (cell phone in Washington)

Carlos Santos, Friends of the Earth Uruguay/REDES
Tel: +32-498 492563 (Belgian cell phone 15-17 May in Geneva only) or email


notes to editors

[1] In preparation for the WTO’s Sixth Ministerial in Hong Kong in December 2005, the G33, led by Indonesia, spelt out a very broad and comprehensive set of food and livelihood security and rural development criteria, under which all agricultural products of domestic interest for developing countries could eventually be designated as Special Products. Their strong position reflected civil society demands for People’s Food Sovereignty. Special Products, Communication of the G33, 12 October 2005, JOB(05)/230, and G33 Proposal for the Special Safeguard Mechanism for Developing Countries, 22 November 2005, JOB(05)/303, both of which can be viewed at www.tradeobservatory.org/search.php

It is exactly those proposals which the US and its allies are determined to push off the table or water down to such an extent that they become meaningless. And the truth is they have already had some success with this. The G33’s 22 November submission already contains a severe limitation when it says that “…any development country Member shall have the right to designate as SP at least 20% of its tariff lines…”. G33 Proposal on the Modalities for the Designation and Treatment of Any Agricultural Product as a Special Product (SP) by Any Developing Country Member, 22 November 2005, JOB(05)304, which can be viewed at www.tradeobservatory.org/search.php

The reason for the current row in Geneva is that even this proposal is under attack from the US and its allies. The US is now suggesting that developing countries exemptions should be limited to a mere 5 tariff lines, which could be the equivalent of 0.5% to 1% in some countries, and severe restrictions are applied to the use of SSM. See TWN report, 3 May 2006, at www.twnside.org.sg/title2/twninfo401.htm , United States Communication on Special Products, 3 May, JOB(06)/137, at www.tradeobservatory.org/library.cfm?refid=80730 and US paper on SSM, JOB(06)/120, 24 April, which can be viewed at www.twnside.org.sg/title2/twninfo399.htm

[2] Governments have agreed that the ‘modalities’ of negotiations need to be agreed by the end of July, if the Doha agenda is to be completed before the US ‘fast track negotiating authority’ expires in mid 2007. There are only two General Council meetings before that date – this one, and the final one scheduled for 27-28 July.

[3] On 11 May the African Union, the Least Developed Countries, the ACP and the G33 (see footnote 3), issued a joint statement condemning the proposals of ‘overtly export-oriented members’ and refusing to agree to any trade deal if their concerns are not effectively and comprehensively taken into account:
“Suggestions and proposals made recently by some overtly export-oriented members of the WTO require the standard of substantial market access improvements to apply to both SPs and SSM. Further, they seek to limit the scope of the SSM to the extent that the mechanism becomes inoperable and to restrict SPS to a handful of tariff lines. These proposals have thus necessarily invoked serious concern among the G-33, African Group, ACP and LDCs. These countries together account for the vast majority of people dependent on agriculture for livelihood and of the global labour force/employment in agricultural activities. These four groups also contain within them the bulk of rural and urban poor in the world for whom access to food at fair and affordable prices remains at the heart of poverty alleviation programmes. The interlinked and complex criteria of food security, livelihood security and rural development cannot be viewed through the filter of export interests of a few developed and developing country members. The negotiating mandate cannot now be redefined.” Joint Communication from the G-33, African Group, ACP and LDCs on Special Products and the Special Safeguard Mechanisms, to the WTO, TN/AG/GEN/17, 11 May 2006.

[4] The G33 countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Botswana, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Korea, Mauritius, Mongolia, Montserrat, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Peru, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

[5] Particular texts agreed in the ‘July Framework’ agreed in July 2004, and the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration in December 2005. See again Joint Communication from the G-33, African Group, ACP and LDCs on Special Products and the Special Safeguard Mechanisms, to the WTO, TN/AG/GEN/17, 11 May 2006.

[6] Countries generally in support of the US’s restrictive approach to SP and/or SSM are Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Thailand and Uruguay. Report by Third World Network, 3 May 2006, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/twninfo401.htm

[7] Particular texts agreed in the ‘July Framework’ agreed in July 2004, and the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration in December 2005. See again Joint Communication from the G-33, African Group, ACP and LDCs on Special Products and the Special Safeguard Mechanisms, to the WTO, TN/AG/GEN/17, 11 May 2006.

[8] (JOB906)/120 dated 24 April, for more detail see Third World Network report at http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/twninfo399.htm

[9] Again, see TWN report, 3 May 2006, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/twninfo401.htm

[10] "Let us be categorical . The ambition envisaged in some highly extreme and ambitious proposals on market access would decimate the entire rural populations of the poor developing countries". Ambassador Gusmardi Bustami of Indonesia, on behalf of the G33, reported by TWN, 9 May 2006, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/twninfo406.htm

[11] These negotiations are known as Non-Agricultural Market Access (or NAMA) negotiations. They include proposals (not yet agreed to) for sharp or complete liberalization in a number of selected sectors. These include all raw materials, including forest and fish products.

[12] The European Commission-financed sustainability impact assessment on the forest sector, for example, demonstrates that there are likely to be significant and irreversible impacts on forests and biodiversity in ‘biodiversity hotspot’ countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, countries in the Congo Basin and Papua New Guinea. In addition, countries that currently protect their forest industries using trade measures can expect those industries to shrink and possibly collapse. Sustainability Impact Assessment of Proposed WTO Negotiations: Final Report for the Forest Sector Study, Marko Katila and Markku Simula, Savcor Indufor Oy, Finland, in association with the Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, UK, with financial assistance from the Commission of the European Communities, 19 June 2005 http://www.sia-trade.org/wto/final%20report%20page.shtml

[13] For further details see FOEI’s The Tyranny of Free Trade: wasted natural wealth and lost livelihoods, December 2005, http://www.foei.org/publications/index.html

 

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