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Critics slam WTO ‘agreement’ in Bali

The Associated Press reports, “A deal has been approved by the World Trade Organization’s 159 member economies for the first time in nearly two decades, keeping alive the possibility that a broader agreement can be reached in the future.”

“Trade ministers had come to the four-day WTO meeting on the resort island of Bali with little hope that an agreement would be reached after years of inertia in trade negotiations.”

“The centerpiece of the agreement reached in Bali was measures to ease barriers to trade by simplifying customs procedures and making them more transparent.” The International Business Times adds, “Under an agreed ‘peace clause’, rich WTO member countries will not be allowed to launch disputes against nations that breach subsidy limits as part of a food security programme.

“Critics say WTO rules may hinder countries from setting their own priorities in environmental protection, worker rights, food security and other areas. And they say sudden reductions in import tariffs can wipe out industries, causing job losses in rich and poor countries.”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “This was not a historic win for developing countries at the WTO. They scrape by with modest and temporary protections for food security policies that should be completely excluded from corporate trade rules, which are still biased in the interests of corporations and rich countries. The bargain, if you can call it that, also came at the high price of agreeing to a trade facilitation agreement that further locks in a neo-colonial trading system that has condemned much of the world to poverty.”

War On Want executive director John Hilary commented, “Any suggestion that there is a deal to celebrate from the WTO talks in Bali is absurd. The negotiations have failed to secure permanent protection for countries to safeguard the food rights of their peoples, exposing hundreds of millions to the prospect of hunger and starvation simply in order to satisfy the dogma of free trade. The USA and EU continue to channel billions in subsidies to their richest farmers, yet seek to destroy other countries’ right to protect their poorest citizens from starvation.”

And challenging the notion that this is a major agreement, Public Citizen Global Trade Watch program director Lori Wallach noted, “Reviewing the actual text of the agreement, it appears that the biggest breakthrough was simply that yet another WTO ministerial meeeting did not melt down altogether.”

A WTO statement says, “The text adopted in Bali is not final, although the substance will not change. It will be checked and corrected to ensure the language is legally correct, aiming for the General Council to adopt it by 31 July 2014.” The next ministerial meeting of the WTO will take place in December 2014. As reported by AP, “(WTO Director-General Roberto) Azevedo said the WTO will spend the next year developing a fresh approach for moving forward with the Doha negotiations.”