Farmers and the Poor Lose Again at WTO Meeting


trade summit in Hong Kong
from December 13-18 ended pretty much
as expected — with a vague face-saving agreement to keep talking.

conference declaration
agreed to by trade ministers and hailed
by the World Trade Organization as a major victory was in fact the
result of an elaborate dance through a week of strong-arm backroom
dealing surrounded by carefully orchestrated political theater.

‘The declaration was deliberately kept minimalist to avoid
another failure like Cancun,’ reads a

post-conference analysis by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade
. ‘In fact, the agreement is so watered down it is hard
to determine what impact it will have. Most of the work is still to
be done.’

In the end, say WTO critics, the world’s farmers and poor people
lost out, while US and European corporations won big, extracting
major concessions from developing countries on trade in services
and industrial products. ‘Total failure of the [current] WTO Doha
round [in Qatar in 2001] was averted,’ Indian activist

Vandana Shiva writes on ZNet
, ‘by the fig leaf of
withdrawal of export subsidies in agriculture by 2013 (while most
of the $400 billion subsidies of the rich country industrialized
corporatized agriculture will remain) and the fig leaf of

The WTO took pains to give the ministerial the appearance of
greater transparency than previous gatherings, publishing, for
example, statistics like the number of cups of coffee trade
ministers drank during the final late-night negotiating session

Director-General Pascal Lamy even posted daily diary entries
a blog on the WTO website, embellishing with cute personal touches
like ‘B+B for lunch (I mean bread and bananas, of course).’

But despite the trappings of openness and transparency, nothing
was left to chance, reports
Khor of the Penang, Malaysia-based Third World Network
. At the
carefully-choreographed closing session:

‘Chairs were arranged theatre-style, with no tables in front of
delegates or microphones or the name card of the countries. There
were no standing microphones either in the aisles. A more
participation-unfriendly arrangement would be hard to imagine.’

Meanwhile, thousands marched in the streets outside the
convention center chanting ‘Down, down WTO!’ More than 800
protesters, mostly South Korean rice farmers, were arrested after a
scuffle with police. Yet according to Khor, the only dissenting
voices that will make it into the WTO’s official record of the
conference belonged to delegates from Venezuela and Cuba, who
walked onto the stage during the closing session and demanded that
they be allowed to speak.

The delegates agreed to resume their negotiations at a
mini-ministerial at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,
in late January, an annual gathering of global business and
government elites that is not known for its openness and
transparency. Whether they’re able to come to an agreement remains
to be seen,

Tom Burgis reports on openDemocracy

‘The Hong Kong deal will be fleshed out in the backrooms of
Geneva. But one thing is already clear and was best put by Arvin
Boolell, Mauritius’s minister of agriculture and chair of the
fifty-six-strong African, Caribbean and Pacific Group: ‘Once again,
we are being placed between the hammer and the anvil.”

Go there >>

The Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference

Go there too >>

Ministerial Declaration

Related Links:

Related Links From the Utne

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.