New Internationalist

Introducing.. The Great Tradomino!

Issue 388

The illusionist who can make even international trade negotiations seem fair

1 Box trick

Agree, under pressure, to scrap an unfair subsidy that is distorting trade. Hey presto. Gone! How bold! Not quite, if you can play the box trick. This is how it goes. In the WTO there are different coloured boxes for different types of farm subsidies. The amber box is for subsidies that clearly distort trade, such as export subsidies. There are limits on how much you can spend in this box. The blue box is rather like the amber box but with certain conditions which may require farmers to limit production. The green box is for subsidies that cause very little or no distortion. There is no limit to spending in this box. If you know this trick – and the EU and the US are most adept – you can remove subsidies from the amber or blue box and gently slip them into a green box. No-one will notice – until it’s too late!

2 Hidden barrier trick

The principle of free trade is to reduce barriers. You can agree with that! But if you don’t want another country flooding your market with, say, cheap flowers or processed foods, here’s a trick. Object to them on health grounds (‘phytosanitary’ in the lingo). If you are a rich country try saying that the imports don’t meet your own standards, set so high they are almost unattainable by poorer countries.

3 Vanishing delegate trick

A trade delegate from a developing country is trying to protect their country’s market from the intentions of your nation’s favourite corporation. But… ping! Your government gives aid to that country. A phone call to the delegates’s minister, gently suggesting that there might be a problem with renewing aid… you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can make the irksome negotiator vanish into thin air!

4 Sensitive fruit trick

People are complaining about your country dumping products on the world market and destroying competition. You understand; you don’t want anyone doing this to you! Try this: claim your main product is one of a new category of ‘sensitive products’ being negotiated in the WTO. (Italian tomatoes are reputed to be very sensitive; they can’t stand the slightest rejection or competition).

5 Decoy trick

Make a really excessive, unreasonable demand. Inflate it further. Make a real hue and cry about it. Use it as a decoy to distract attention from what you are really after. Then pop the inflatable, causing a big surprise. But only when what you really want is safely in the bag. For example, it might be the golden key to exploiting world markets for your energy, water or telecommunications companies or your financial services sectors.

All these tricks are tried and tested. They work! But it helps if you can afford to subscribe to our Exclusive Tradomino Services Update. Special discounted rate for G8 members.

  1. 1 Box trick: The EU and the US claim to have cut their domestic agricultural subsidies over the years but in reality there have been no substantial reductions. And in spite of their recent offers to cut their subsidies, they intend to continue as before by simply taking subsidies out of one category box (amber or blue) and reallocating them to another (green). At least $40 billion of Green Box payments are likely to be trade distorting and will therefore break WTO rules. The US gives $25 billion a year in farm subsidies, but after implementing its current proposal it would still give $17-27 billion a year. Likewise the EU gives around Euro 64 billion ($77 billion) annually, but under its current proposal it would still give Euro 55-58 billion ($66-$70 billion). Sources: Oxfam, ‘Green But Not Clean’, November 2005 and ‘Executive Summary’, Action Aid, London, 8 December 2005.
  2. 4 Sensitive fruit trick: Developed countries have introduced a category of ‘sensitive products’ into the negotiations as a way of protecting their own markets. But at the same time high-income countries are resisting calls for low-income countries not to be forced to reduce import duties on vital food crops (Special products) and secure a system (known as Special Safeguard mechanism) for addressing surges of agricultural imports.

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