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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Trade must serve the poor
By Adriano Campolina Soares
Food Rights Campaigner, ActionAid, Brazil

Third world campaigners are dismayed that the 'Olympics' of world trade talks in Cancun are turning into a win-win situation for the traditional trade superpowers, the EU and US, at the expense of the poorest people on earth.

All the rhetoric from the last big World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Doha in 2001 was that reducing poverty would be at the heart of the current round of trade talks.

This was supposed to be the Doha 'Development Round'.

Key issues at the trade talks

But what have the poorest gained since Doha?

Virtually nothing. Take the key issue of agriculture (which is vital to the livelihoods of three quarters of humanity).

Rich countries promised to cut the $330bn in subsidies they lavish on their farmers.

These subsidies destroy local markets and put farmers out of business in developing countries; they are flooded with cheap imports such as wheat, maize, milk and sugar, and they drive down world prices for exporters.

But instead of slashing subsidies, the US ramped up its support by $175bn over 10 years and the EU has fudged reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, putting off any real cuts until 2013.

'Dirty deal'

And then the gloves really came off.

In August the EU and US did a dirty deal at the WTO that will see them making only modest concessions to poorer nations on cutting subsidies and other farming issues.

They hailed it as a breakthrough, but it was nothing of the sort.

It was a classic stitch up that ignored the interests of the vast majority.

Developing countries - like India, Brazil and China - have clubbed together and vowed to stand up against the superpowers in Cancun.

Other pledges to combat poverty have also been delayed.

For two years, the US blocked a deal to relax the rules to allow access to cheaper drugs for diseases like malaria, TB and HIV.

It's a criminal delay when we know 28m Africans suffer from HIV and only 60,000 of them currently have access to the right HIV medicines.


But there's worse to come in Cancun. The EU is pushing for a dangerous set of new rules - known as the 'new issues', or 'Singapore issues' - that would greatly expand the WTO's powers into new areas such as competition law and rules on foreign investment.

The investment rules are the 'hottest' topic and are highly controversial; multinationals could gain sweeping new freedoms to set up and invest in poorer countries at the expense of the rights of local communities.

ActionAid has experience of the misery caused to local people when multinational investors are poorly regulated.

We're working with communities where villagers have been kicked off land, water supplies hijacked, and local food markets taken over.

In my country, Brazil, big food multinationals have squeezed thousands of small scale farmers out of their traditional diary and milk markets.

The new WTO investment plans blatantly favour multinationals and will make corporate abuses more likely.

Poor countries say they don't want them, but is anyone listening?


The peasants and farmers' movements will march on Mexico and the streets of Cancun to protest against the human costs of the WTO's version of globalisation.

If the superpowers run off with all the spoils and Cancun fails to deliver urgent reforms, many more will question the WTO's commitment to putting poverty reduction at the heart of global trade.

Brazilian Adriano Campolina Soares is head of ActionAid's International Food Rights Campaign.


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