After five years of wrangling, the latest round of trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) finally collapsed in late July. Although the grossly misnamed ‘Doha Development Round’ is not technically dead – merely ‘between intensive care and the crematorium’ as Kamal Nath the Indian trade minister put it – most agree that the prognosis is terminal.
From its inception in 2001, the Doha Development Round – which aims to bring down barriers to enable ‘free’ trade around the world – has been plagued by Western hypocrisy. At the same time as they have argued that developing economies remove protections for their local industries, the US and the EU have consistently refused to withdraw billions of dollars of subsidies and tariffs that place their agricultural industries at a competitive advantage. Just after the talks broke down and the EU and the US were flinging increasingly acrimonious accusations of blame at each other, civil society movements from around the world got together in Geneva and threw a party.
‘We’re celebrating this occasion,’ said Indonesian farmer Henry Saragih. ‘We have worked hard in Indonesia, pressuring our government to stop agricultural imports which have pushed our farmers out of their jobs.’
Pablo Rosalez from the Fisherfolk Movement in the Philippines agrees. ‘We are happy that the talks have been suspended indefinitely, but we would be even happier if the suspension becomes permanent. The time for reflection should be used to think about development without the WTO.’
While Northern NGOs are divided as to whether this is a ‘tragic outcome’ (Oxfam) or ‘good news’ (War on Want), campaigners in the Majority World have opposed the bad deal put on the table by rich countries from day one. According to Walden Bello from the Bangkok-based NGO Focus on the Global South, ‘the idea that the Doha Round was a “development round” could not have been farther from the truth. While trade can be a medium for development, from the very start the aim of the developed countries was to push for greater market openings from the developing countries while making minimal concessions on their part. Invoking development was simply a cynical ploy to make the process less unpalatable.’
Instead of staying mired in the murky machinations of the WTO, Joseph Purugganan from the Philippine-based NGO Stop the New Round Coalition believes that it’s time to ‘think of a world beyond Doha, a world beyond the WTO, and start building and strengthening people’s alternatives. We want an alternative system of global trade that protects livelihoods, promotes food sovereignty, secures jobs, and facilitates access to basic human needs such as water, education, healthcare and affordable medicines. This alternative system is anchored on co-operation and not competition, where people’s welfare matters more than profits.’Jess Worth