WTO Unsurprise

It has been nearly a fortnight, but I’ve been waiting for a chance to share Devinder Sharma’s thoughts before passing comment on the recent fiasco at the WTO. Now that he has been uploaded at Znet, you can read Devinder in all his glory. (And do contribute to Znet if you can – they’re an important home for alternative media.)

Back to the WTO. At the end of July, in response to a ‘drop dead deadline’ (a technical term), the EU and US managed to punt developing countries’ objections to EU and US agricultural proposals across the negotiating line. The proposals are appalling. Over to Devinder:

“The framework actually provides a cushion to the US and EU to raise farm subsidies from the existing level. … If we were to add all the components as specified in the WTO framework, the EU subsidies at present will total around (including the under-notified coupled support) Euro 55.8 billion, which is far less than what it is supposed to reduce. In other words, EU gets enough leverage to increase its subsidies. No wonder the so-called phase out of agriculture subsidies has not snowballed into a political crisis in any of the European countries. … The United States on the other hand is wanting to shift the US $ 180 billion for ten years that it has provided to farmers under the notorious Farm Bill 2002 (70 per cent of this amount is to be spent in the first three years, before George Bush goes to elections) to the Blue Box. Since the WTO will now specify the historical period from which the Blue Box implementation will begin, it means that the US can now protect the yearly installment of its counter-cyclic payments to farmers.

Yes indeed. Through the combined use of colour-coded boxes, a pocket calculator, and the threat of economic violence, the EU and US have pushed developing countries towards policies that will almost certainly harm the poorest farmers and farm labourers, while obliging their own farming bloc to undergo very little trauma.

If you’re wondering why developing countries put up with this shit, Devinder points out what happens when they act up:

International NGOs have said that the EU had withdrawn aid to Kenya, the most vocal of the African countries. It may be recalled that Kenya was the country that had staged a walkout at Cancun thereby leading to the collapse of the WTO Ministerial. This time EU withdrew US $ 60.2 million aid to Kenya on July 21 under the pretext of ‘bad governance’. UK Trade Minister Patricia Hewitt has already gone on record stating that Britain was using its influence to persuade developing countries. Moreover if ‘bad governance’ is the EU ‘s legitimate concern there seems to be no justification in joining hands with the United States at such international negotiations after the US illegal war in Iraq. The terror of trade however does not operate on ethics and morality.

In the July negotiations, many African countries were unhappy with the content of the offers on the WTO table. They were silenced not only by the EU and US, but by voices from within Africa. Patrick Bond (the man who’s going to be the new jefe at the Centre for Civil Society) calls this regional adoption of hegemony “sub-imperialism”. I’m not sure why the new term is warranted, frankly, since this kind of capitulation by elite blocs has been a fairly standard feature in the colonial enterprise. But, whatever the term, the outcome isn’t likely to be pleasant. Watch this space for more WTO updates, and in the meantime, go check out Devinder’s thoughts here.