Lula: give Doha a chance

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva said Aug. 4 he hopes an agreement may still emerge from the Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations. “I don’t believe the round has failed. We still have enormous possibilities to negotiate,” said Silva in a weekly radio address. The round was initiated in 2001 in Doha, Qatar, but collapsed July 29 at a meeting in Geneva, when the US, India and China failed to agree on agricultural policy. (Forbes, Aug. 5)

In a July 29 statement, California’s Oakland Institute on food policy wrote:

The collapse of the Doha Round of global trade talks in Geneva today marks a victory for small farmers and workers in developing countries whose governments stood up to the pressure and arm twisting tactics of the U.S. and the EU over the last week.

While India and China are being singled out for the collapse of talks, they were not alone in standing firm. The Special Products (SP)/Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) issues in agriculture which took center stage, were concerns of about 100 developing countries represented by various groups (G33, Africa, ACP, LDCs, SVEs). More important, the negotiations failed because the U.S. and the EU want to continue their domination of international trade of agricultural commodities. Their responsibility is evident in their extreme market access demands, combined with a lack of commitment to real development objectives in the so called “Development” round.

The rich nations, along with the International Financial Institutions such as the WTO, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, presented the rapid conclusion of the Doha negotiations as a solution to the current food price crisis. However, it is widely recognized that opening of markets, removal of tariffs, and withdrawal of state intervention in agriculture, has turned developing countries from net food exporters to net food importers and burdened them with huge import bills. This process which leaves the poor dependent on uncertain and volatile global markets for their food supply, has wiped out millions of livelihoods and placed nearly half the humanity at the brink of hunger and starvation.

The collapse of talks will surely be lamented upon as a missed opportunity for the developing world, as it has been in the past. The truth is that the so called “Development ” Round marketed as a way out of hunger and poverty, would have further perpetuated an unfair and inequitable international trade system in the name of creating multilateral trade rules.

The collapse, however, presents new opportunities for the way forward.

It has resuscitated democracy where pressure from civil society organizations, social movements, trade unions, and farmers organizations could challenge and withstand “poorwashing” PR efforts, corporate interests, and even political pressure on heads of governments from President Bush and Prime Minister Brown.

It has opened the door for developing countries to regain ownership of their food and agricultural policies which should meet the needs of their people and not the dictates of the IFIs.

And finally, it shows that policy makers can prioritize human rights such as food, health, water, and education over trade agreements.

See our last posts on Brazil and peak food.