Irrgang: WTO agreement extremely disappointing, EU position hypocritical

18 December 2005

Irrgang: WTO agreement extremely disappointing, EU position hypocritical

According to SP Member of Parliament Ewout Irrgang the WTO agreement reached at the end of last week is “extremely disappointing. The agreement includes hardly any commitments from developed countries on the running down of their export subsidies but what it does include are dangerous agreements regarding the liberalisation of services in developing countries. The promise that this round of negotiations would be a 'development round' is now dead and buried. The EU is hypocritical because once again it has given little thought to anyone's interests but its own.”

”The European Union has offered nothing as far as the phasing out of export subsidies by 2013 goes. The American offer to abolish export subsidies on cotton is also hollow. Ninety percent of subsidies consist of other types of subsidy which the US is not giving up, so African farmers will gain little from this.

True, some progress has been recorded as far as access for the very poorest countries to Western markets goes, but even this is extremely limited. The US and Japan will be allowed to keep crucial sectors, such as textiles, closed.

The accord includes, to top it off, dangerous commitments regarding the liberalisation of services, the so-called GATS negotiations. According to these agreements developing countries cannot exclude certain sectors from negotiations. Economic Affairs Minister Laurens Jan Brinkhorst has always said, on the contrary, that liberalisation should come from freely-entered into negotiations.

This formulation proves the justice of the SP's warnings, that the GATS negotiations would lead to forcible liberalisation of services in developing countries, including such vital matters as the supply of drinking water.

Developing countries were faced in reality with Hobson's choice: they could either vote in favour of a bad text or shoulder once again the blame for the failure of the talks. The remark from Mr Brinkhorst that developing countries were hypocritical to demand access to Western markets while offering no access to their own is itself not without a certain hypocrisy. Brinkhorst talks as if trading partners were equal, but the truth is that developing countries need to take the opportunity to develop their economies to the point where they could be fully opened to Western competition. “Fair trade is not the same as free trade. Free trade favours the strong, fair trade gives weaker trading partners a better chance. Despite all the fine words about a development round, the European Union has prioritised its own narrowly-defined interests. I call that hypocritical.”

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