November 14, 2001

Poor consumers risk losing out in Doha trade deal

At the World Trade Organisation’s fourth Ministerial Conference which ended today, consumers made some gains, but the launch of wide ranging new trade negotiations is bad news for poorer countries.

Consumers International - the worldwide federation of consumer groups - had campaigned for a pro-consumer, pro-development agreement in Doha, focusing on correcting the bias in existing trade treaties against the needs of poor consumers. This required action on the so-called ‘implementation issues’ rather than on enlarging the WTO’s remit.

However, the European Union’s insistence on including competition and investment in the WTO’s work programme - despite pleas from the poorest countries that they do not have the capacity to negotiate such things - flies in the face of demands for a development round to focus on their interests.

On the plus side, consumers around the world welcome the declaration on intellectual property and health, which should assure governments that they can take appropriate measures to prioritise health over TRIPS obligations to help make essential medicines available. There has also been some progress in commitments to reduce and eventually remove agricultural export subsidies, which are against the interests of consumers in poor and in wealthier countries alike.

“Since Seattle, the rhetoric of these trade talks has improved, with more emphasis on supporting developing countries,” said Jayanti Durai, Senior Co-ordinator for Consumers International.

“But what has been agreed is less specific and the benefits which consumers, as opposed to big business, will get will depend on the forthcoming negotiations. Support for poorer consumers is in the balance.”

Editor’s note: For Consumer International’s assessment of the impact of WTO agreements on developing countries, go to: