By Patrick Nicholson
Cafod, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development
After two years of negotiations the World Trade Organisation meeting in Cancun is facing a critical test of its credibility.
Rich nations will have to do more
The 146 members of WTO launched a 'Development' round
of trade talks at their last meeting in Doha, Qatar in 2001.
Negotiators from rich trading powers like the US and
EU promised to put the concerns of developing
countries at the heart of the talks.
To prove their credentials, the words 'development' and 'developing' were mentioned 63 times in the 10-page document launching the new round.
To most people that meant the EU and US reforming their agriculture sectors by opening up their markets to poor countries and cutting the harmful subsidies they pay their farmers to produce surplus food that
ends up dumped on the Third World.
But that rhetoric was quickly forgotten as soon as serious negotiations began.
After Doha, the level of US agricultural subsidies went up by 80 percent with farmers scheduled to receive $190 billion over the next ten years.
The EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) remains at $43 billion a year and rising.
CAFOD research showed that total support for the EU's dairy industry in terms of protected prices and subsidies works out at more than $2 per day on each cow. Put another way, the average EU cow now
receives more income than half the world's population.
Rich countries now spend six times as much on agriculture subsidies as they do on global aid.
The EU and US have already come to an understanding on agriculture but it is vague and timid.
On Monday 8th September four of the poorest African countries,
Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Benin made dramatic plea to the US and the EU to cut subsidies to cotton farmers because they were ruining the livelihoods of 10 million small farmers.
This could be the litmus test for development at Cancun. But already the forces of intransigence are lining up against them.
The EU's Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, has already slammed poor countries demands as cheap propaganda and there is no indication that the USwill cut back the $4 billion in subsidies that it
pays to its 25,000 cotton farmers.
Rich countries will need to try a lot harder to put development back into the 'development' round if Cancun is going to be a success or even half a success.