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World trade summit adopts fairer rules

AN AGREEMENT on world trade, reached on Saturday in Geneva, offers hope for a fairer system. A new balance of power has emerged in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as there are signs that rich and poor nations both now realise that it is in everyone’s interests to give fresh momentum to the negotiations.

After the breakdown of the WTO ministerial meeting at Cancùn, Mexico, in September, many thought that the discussions had become irrevocably deadlocked. But now developing countries, led by Brazil, India and South Africa, have shown that they can resist the pressure of the United States and the European Union to make unreciprocated concessions.

The US Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, described the accord as "a milestone. . . a crucial step for global trade". The EU Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, said: "The time is past when the WTO was run by the most powerful nations in the world. They can no longer do whatever they want."

The developing nations believe that the US and EU have gone further than ever before in promising to remove export subsidies from agricultural products, which have enabled developed countries to undercut farmers in poor countries.

In return, developing countries have agreed to open their markets to a greater extent to the industrial products of rich countries, although safeguards will remain to protect infant industries from the harshest foreign competition.

The Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry, Kamal Nath, said: "We have closed the deal. . . This more than adequately addresses India’s concerns. Developed countries cannot, through artificial price mechanisms, gain access to Indian markets."

The French delegation initially resisted the agreement, on the grounds that it made too many concessions on agricultural subsidies. But it could not stop the making of a deal that could have wide-ranging implications for European farmers, if the proposals to reduce farm support in rich countries are carried through.

Much work now needs to be done to ensure that the new optimism is justified when the text of the agreement is finalised in Hong Kong in December next year. Interest groups in developed countries which see the agreement as a threat will be lobbying strongly.

Organisations, including Churches, that have been campaigning for a fairer system of world trade will need to keep up the pressure on governments to ensure that the Doha development round of trade negotiations does not falter again.

The British Government, which will host the G8 summit next year, could play a pivotal part in the process of ensuring a more equitable global trade policy. It should try to ensure that the vision of a global trade consensus, based on an equitable balancing of interests, becomes a reality.

The Revd Christopher Harrison is world-development adviser for the diocese of Derby.

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