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Poor nations at WTO decry export dumping

WTO protesters burn a U.S. flag Saturday outside the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico.
WTO protesters burn a U.S. flag Saturday outside the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico.
Jose Luis Magana, Associated Press

CANCUN, MEXICO — Representatives of developing countries lashed out at the United States and the European Union Saturday, declaring that a draft World Trade Organization declaration issued in Cancun, Mexico, fails to change trade policies that harm millions of farmers around the world.

The Fifth Ministerial WTO meeting at this seaside resort ends Sunday. One of the chief goals was to start setting a calendar for the reduction of massive European, U.S. and Japanese farm subsidies blamed for ruining farmers in developing countries that can't compete.

"The text of this draft is so far from our expectations. But we will do our best to save this meeting," said Haitian trade representative Hegel Goutier, speaking for a 92-country bloc of some of the poorest African, Caribbean and Asian nations.

Goutier said many of the representatives of the 148 nations in the WTO are disillusioned because they believe wealthy countries are reneging on a commitment to reduce subsidies that push down world market prices for grains, cotton and other products also produced in poor countries.

Wealthy European nations and the United States, Goutier said, had "centuries to get rich. They had colonies. They had slaves. They had the industrial revolution with no workers' rights."

The poorer countries, he said, expected that Cancun's meeting would produce an agreement with more "precise" dates and proposed percentage reductions for subsidies. The draft statement circulated Saturday evening fails to include a calendar or proposed percentage reductions, instead suggesting that many details be left for future negotiations six months away in Geneva.

The international aid group Oxfam, one of thousands of non-government agencies holding a parallel conference here, dismissed the WTO's draft statement as a "repackaging exercise that would do little or nothing to stop the export dumping that helps keep 900 million small farmers poor."

United States Deputy Trade Representative Peter Allgeier suggested that the United States is willing to reduce support to farm producers in conjunction with European and other nations whose subsidies are higher overall.

"The United States remains committed to achieving an elimination of export subsidies, to significant cuts in domestic subsidies, in the context of those who have higher levels of subsidies, harmonizing down to lower levels," he said.

Allgeier also said the United States is committed to "real market access, which we are prepared to provide in our market if others are prepared to do that in their markets."

The WTO is a consortium of countries that is developing a common set of rules for lowering barriers to trade, investment and the sale of services among 148 member nations. Tension within the organization has increased, with blocs of countries forming and accusing the wealthy countries of intransigence.

In 1999, the WTO met in Doha, Qatar, and set goals for using trade to help countries address the development needs of poor nations.

"We had a lot of hope after Doha," said Gautier. "A lot of people were thinking the new world would be a more human world."

Lori Wallach, a trade expert with Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch group, said, "The whole (WTO) system is in trouble. It was built on false consensus."

In the WTO draft, Wallach said, "the U.S. has had its way in trashing the demands of a bloc of poor African countries to end the dumping on world markets of subsidized cotton, a practice that is devastating small farmers in Africa."

"Instead of agreeing to the African proposal to implement specific measures to stop dumping," Wallach said, "the draft text simply calls for more studies and cooperation between international agencies."

While delegates here struggled over the proposed text, trying to come to a consensus on it before the meeting's closure, several thousand protesters six miles away tied ropes to police barricades and toppled them.

South Korean farmers led the protest, more of a symbolic gesture than a real attempt to cross police lines.

and called for a moment of silence to commemorate a South Korean farmer who committed suicide Wednesday to protest the WTO.

In South Korea, Mexico and other countries, farmers contend that the lowering of tariffs under WTO rules and other trade agreements are hurting them by forcing them to compete with rich countries.

The draft WTO statement calls for talks to soon begin on specific business investment polices that could change rules on foreign investment in countries around the world. But many developing countries have said they are not yet prepared to begin such negotiations.

Mexican protester Felipe Morales, 30, a car washer in Cancun, said he was demonstrating against the WTO because he thinks it is a vehicle for rich countries instead of a forum for equal negotiations.

"They have all sorts of help for their farmers in wealthy countries, and then they sell their products here," Morales said. "Their trade agreements make life hard for farmers here. We're the ones who lose and they win, win, win."