Loaded Against the Poor: World Trade Organisation

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The forthcoming Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle presents a key opportunity for member countries to take stock of existing WTO agreements and to begin to transform international trade regulations in favour of poverty reduction and sustainable development. But there is a real danger that the industrialised countries and powerful transnational corporations will set an agenda at Seattle that promotes their interests in expanding export markets, with scant regard for the needs of those in poverty.
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    This paper was written by the Policy Department of Oxfam (Great Britain). For further information, please contact Anni Long, Team Administrator:  Tel: +44 1865 312127 Fax: +44 1865 312245 Email: along@oxfam.org.uk   Website: http://www.oxfam.org.uk     Contents Executive summary ............................................................................................i   1.  Introduction...........................................................................................i 2.  Up-front commitments to level the playing field..................................iii 3.  Revision of existing agreements to promote poverty reduction..........iv 4.  Possible new issues: investment and labour rights.............................v 5.  The limits of WTO competencies, and institutional reform.................vi 1. Introduction ...............................................................................................1   1.1  Background..........................................................................................1 1.2  What’s in store at Seattle.....................................................................2 1.3  Winners and losers from trade liberalisation........................................3 1.4  The least-developed countries.............................................................5 2. Up-front commitments at Seattle .......................................................6   2.1  Assessing the development impact of WTO Agreements...................7 2.2  Increased market access for LLDCs....................................................7 2.3  Aid to build trade capacity....................................................................7 3. Reforms to existing agreements ........................................................8   3.1  Market access......................................................................................8 3.2  Textiles and clothing..........................................................................11 3.3  Agriculture..........................................................................................13 3.4  Intellectual property...........................................................................16 3.5  Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs)...................................18 3.6  Special and differential treatment......................................................20 4. Possible new issues .............................................................................23   4.1  Investment.........................................................................................23 4.2  WTO and workers’ rights...................................................................26 5. The limits to WTO competencies, and institutional reform ....29   5.1  Developing-country negotiating power...............................................30 5.2  Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU).........................................31 5.3  WTO, consumer protection and the environment..............................32 5.4  Citizens’ right to a say........................................................................33 6. Conclusion ...............................................................................................34 Appendix: List of all Oxfam’s policy proposals ....................................36      Loaded against the poor:   World Trade Organisation ‘More than ever before trade - and the rules of the trading system - intersect with a broad array of issues and concerns which have a powerful impact on people’s day-to-day lives..’. (Renato Ruggiero, former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation) Executive Summary 1. Introduction The forthcoming Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle presents a key opportunity for member countries to take stock of existing WTO agreements and to begin to transform international trade regulations in favour of poverty reduction and sustainable development. But there is a real danger that the industrialised countries and powerful transnational corporations will set an agenda at Seattle that promotes their interests in expanding export markets, with scant regard for the needs of those in poverty. Unequal benefits One of the priorities in helping developing countries increase their share of the fruits of world trade is to enhance their access to the markets of industrialised countries. Thus far, trade liberalisation has been an unequal bargain, with the greatest gains from tariff agreements accruing to developed countries. Meanwhile, many developing countries have undertaken substantial unilateral trade liberalisation under structural adjustment programmes, which has not been reciprocated by developed countries. Following implementation of the Uruguay Round, the average tariff on imports from the least-developed countries into the industrialised countries will be 30 per cent higher than the average tariff on imports from other industrialised countries. For developing countries as a group, it will be 10 per cent higher  . This reflects the lower reductions applied to products of interest to the world’s poorest countries.   The costs of Northern protectionism for developing countries are huge. Developing countries are losing up to US$700 billion in annual export earnings as a result of trade barriers maintained by industrialised countries. While world trade flows have tripled   over the past two decades, the world’s 48 poorest countries have seen their share of exports decline by almost half, to a negligible 0.4 per cent. Had the poorest countries been able to maintain their share of world markets at mid-1980s levels, their average per capita incomes would be US$32 a year higher - a significant increase over today’s figure of US$228 a year.  i
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