Nelly Bassily | August 11, 2008
Some are calling it the “Death of Doha.” At the end of July, the latest round of negotiations on world trade – known as the Doha Development Round – broke down. All the ramifications are yet to be known, but it’s already clear that some groups, such as cotton farmers, were disappointed. Advocates for subsistence food farmers, on the other hand, are hailing a victory.
West Africa’s top cotton producers had a strong agenda heading into the meetings, which were held in Geneva, Switzerland. Representatives from Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali demanded that the United States cut subsidies to its farmers by 80 per cent. In a statement, Africa’s negotiating group said that the huge subsidies given by developed countries to their farmers had depressed world cotton prices, driving African cotton farmers out of production.
The United States reportedly refused such a large cut to its farmers. The reports suggest that clashes over subsidies between the United States and other large players such as the European Union, India, and China, contributed significantly to the breakdown of the talks.
Other commentators suggest that a mechanism designed to protect small scale farmers was the real sticking point. The Special Safeguard Mechanism is meant to prevent “dumping” – that is, the import of subsidised agricultural produce at a price so low that it undercuts local production, thus bankrupting local farmers. The mechanism would allow a country to apply additional tariffs to prevent an import surge and a drop in local market prices. Representatives from developing and developed countries could not agree on the size of a surge that should be allowed before the mechanism kicks in.
Anti-globalization activists celebrated the collapse of the talks. La Via Campesina, an international peasants movement with members in 56 countries worldwide, hailed the breakdown as a victory for those who want to protect the livelihoods of three billion peasants worldwide. In a statement, the organization urged governments not to spend any more time and resources trying to find compromises for the Doha round.
Summing up the negotiations, the Inter Press news service described the talks as a battle between the commercial interests of agricultural exporting countries, and the livelihoods of subsistence farmers in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. They suggested that, had the proposed deal been agreed upon, African development concerns would have been ignored while exports from the United States and the European Union would have been given preferential treatment.
However, those developing countries seeking to re-negotiate the terms of trade for export crops such as bananas and cotton, still hope for a revival of the Doha Development Round.