May 9th, 2005


Great news everyone!

The amazing news is that a WTO subgroup has agreed tariff changes that will make it far, far easier for developing countries to sell crops to the developed world, and reduce the subsidies that we pay our own farmers, lifting hundreds of millions of farmers, their famillies and villages out of poverty.

Last week, a political battle was concluded that will probably have consequences for far more people than last week's UK general election.

At a low-key meeting in Paris, a group of anonymous technocrats finally reached an agreement that brightens the prospects of - literally - billions of people.

At stake was the pressing need for a fairer international trading system - particularly in agriculture. Campaign groups like Oxfam rightly protest that farmers in the EU (and US) operate behind high tariff barriers, while receiving subsidies of over $1bn (£530m) per day.

The EU shift came only days after the WTO confirmed its ruling that subsidies to European sugar farmers are illegal. "After that, the writing was on the wall," says a European Commission official. "We faced intense pressure, not only from member states, but from trade campaigners too".

Once all member states agree, finalising detailed contracts takes at least a year. So the WTO's Hong Kong summit in December is the real deadline for Doha.

With that in mind, last week's climb-down shows the big Western powers now take the rest of the world seriously.

"Several big Asian and Latin American countries are now major commercial players," says the Commission official. "We have to adjust to that, and if we don't do it through the WTO, the alternative is far more painful".

Full article here.