Christian Activists Say Draft for WTO Summit Fails to Address Poverty Reduction

The draft text prepared for the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit next month was criticized for failing to address poverty reduction in the world’s developing countries.

The draft text prepared for the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit next month was criticized for failing to address poverty reduction in the world’s developing countries.

A 42-page draft document prepared by WTO top officials for the Dec. 13-18 ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, was unveiled by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy on Saturday, according to the Associated Press (AP). The draft will form the basis of discussion for the meeting, looking into global trade policies.

However, it was reported that the draft has failed to meet the expectation of many international aid agencies and Christian organizations that have been lobbying for fair trade policies to protect the market in the developing countries – a crucial step to "make poverty history."

Some suggested critical measures to reinforce fair trade, such as cutting tariffs and subsidies on either agriculture or manufactured goods in the rich countries, were totally ignored in the draft, AP reported.

The U.K.-based church agency Christian Aid, commented on the WTO draft document saying, "On all key sections, the concerns of poorer nations have been swept aside." Particularly, agriculture has been the main sticking point.

"Developing countries want better access to rich countries’ markets for their produce. But they are not satisfied with the offers made by the European Union and the United States," Christian Aid said in a released statement.

Farm trade is the most important to the economy of developing countries. Many rich countries such as the United States and those within the European Union have enjoyed heavy subsidies in the agricultural industry and are able to produce better products with lower cost. As a result, the agricultural products from developing countries lose the competition in the open market environment.

In face of the poor countries’ demand to cuts the farm tariffs and subsidies in the United States and the EU, both say "any concessions they do give must be in exchange for access to developing countries’ industry and service sectors," according to Christian Aid.

Christian Aid’s trade policy manager, Claire Melamed, added that the United States and the EU are divided in their opinions, and the battle "has dominated the draft text, at the expense of developing countries’ concerns."

Melamed further criticized the text on agriculture on the WTO draft document as "biased" because the special safeguard mechanism proposed is "a narrow U.S. interpretation" and fails to "implement protection where people’s livelihoods are threatened."

Oxfam International has echoed similar concern in the latest statement. Phil Bloomer, Acting Head of Oxfam International's Trade campaign said, "It's very disappointing how far members are from agreeing a deal that would help poor countries…Rich countries have been pursuing their own self-interest and must take responsibility for this failure."

Oxfam called on all rich countries to immediately grant duty and quota free market access for the poorest countries.

The WTO summit in Hong Kong next month has drawn international concern. The evangelical-based Micah Challenge has launched massive campaign in Hong Kong to lobby international leaders to take actions to eradicate global poverty.