The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) international trade talks in Geneva collapsed last week. This has led to howls of despair from the media, which says it will damage the economies of developing countries.
However, despite being called the Doha Development Round, the talks offered nothing to the majority of people in the world.
The round of negotiations started at Doha in Qatar in November 2001, just after the 9/11 attack on the US. Then the message was that the poorer countries had to rally round and help save the world economy.
Last week was the third time the negotiations have broken down. From the start, enormous pressure has been put on countries in the Global South to sign up to the rich governments’ neoliberal agenda.
The pressure on poorer countries was ironic as both the US and the European Union (EU) have continued to subsidise their own agribusiness.
Advocates of liberalisation argue that free market access will lead to benefits for all economies, particularly by offering greater access to Western markets.
In contrast, Walden Bello and Mary Lou Malig of Focus on the Global South conclude that, “Greed backfired, instigating instead a change in the equation of global economic power.
“Nevertheless, just as Dracula could get resurrected in a B-movie sequel, there is no 100 percent guarantee that the Doha Round and the WTO will not rise again.”
Governments of poor countries demanded the right to protect their economies against price surges. This was a very modest demand. But the rich refused.
A “successful” outcome of Doha would have removed barriers to flooding poor countries with Western manufactured goods and services.
It would have left the poor in many more countries at the mercy of global food markets and shifts in commodity prices based on distant stock exchanges they had no control over.
This was the immediate issue that caused the collapse.
The changes the EU and US governments have demanded are clearly of no benefit to the poor in the Global South. They are also of no advantage to ordinary people in the West, whose lives are being ravaged by neoliberal cuts. The only people to win out would have been the corporations whose profits would soar.
Larry Elliott pointed out in the Guardian that even in the West, “The rich have seen the biggest rise in income and the gap between rich and poor has widened.
“Job insecurity has risen as the threat of outsourcing has increased, while in-work benefits such as final salary pension schemes have been pared back.”