Oxfam: Doha outcome discouraging

The international NGO Oxfam considers the Doha Ministerial Conference a discouraging kick-off to global trade talks, giving “a four-out-of-ten score” to the deal struck at the Qatari capital.

While a clear victory was gained on public health, in other aspects, developing countries can be bulldozed into accepting a broad trade agenda which could exacerbate poverty and inequality, Oxfam cautioned in a news release issued on 14 November.

Oxfam lauded the outcome reached at the WTO Ministerial on patent rules and access to medicines, declaring that developing countries have won a major political battle on this front after months of effort. “The deal on patents will help poor countries get cheaper medicines. Doha sends a strong message that people’s health overrides the interests of big drug companies, who will find it much harder to bully poor countries over patents,” said Michael Bailey, Oxfam’s Senior Policy Advisor. “But the fight for affordable medicines isn’t over. Without further reform, WTO patent rules will still bring suffering to the sick in the developing world.”

If the Doha declaration on TRIPS and public health was seen as being in the interests of the developing world, the work programme set in motion by the conference could impact adversely on the South, warned Oxfam. After days of arm-twisting, developing-country governments agreed in principle to widen the scope of the next round of trade negotiations. High-speed talks on investment and competition may be added to the already demanding agenda of agricultural and services liberalization.

This, Oxfam feared, will overload developing countries’ negotiating capacity and force them to unconditionally open their markets to multinational corporations. “There is a loophole allowing for postponement of the new issues, but developing countries will be under intense pressure not to use it,” it said.

In addition, many of the developing countries’ immediate demands have been either denied or placated with empty promises. “The rich world’s refusal to halt agricultural dumping or to free up its markets to exports from the least-developed countries is scandalous,” commented Bailey. “These stark examples of double standards and hypocrisy indicate that the so-called ‘development round’ touted by European governments has been buried in the Doha sand”.

Oxfam thus stressed that the challenge now is to rally public opinion in North and South alike to fight for a genuine development round which will deliver for the billion people living in poverty. “The victory on access to medicines shows that tides do turn”. (TWN)