Christian Aid warns of trade talks walk-out after leak
International development agency Christian Aid is today urging poor countries to prepare for a walk out of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Hong Kong this week unless the European Union (EU) executes a dramatic change in its aggressive liberalising trade policies.
According to leaked documents obtained by Christian Aid, the EU is continuing to push developing nations to privatise sensitive services such as water, healthcare and banking. This runs counter to EU rhetoric that these talks are primarily about pro-poor trade policies.
At the same time, the EU has failed to make significant cuts in agricultural subsidies. As a result poor countries are unlikely to gain anything from the crucial talks that begin on Tuesday (13 December 2005).
The deal that developing countries will be offered in Hong Kong is likely to harm rather than benefit them, according to the majority of African countries. If this deal stays on the table, Christian Aid will urge poor countries to walk out rather than sign up to a damaging agreement.
In an exclusive Christian Aid poll, two-thirds of African trade delegations questioned said that their economies would suffer if they accept what is currently on offer. Ninety per cent reject the EU's claim that this is a pro-poor round of ëdevelopment' talks.
In the first survey of its kind, the Christian Aid poll also reflects a renewed determination by smaller African countries to resist pressure from the EU and US to sign up to an agreement that is not in their interests.
More than half of the respondents said they would be prepared to halt the negotiations if they didn't like what was on offer. This echoes the WTO summit in Cancun two years ago, when the talks crashed after poor country delegations walked out.
'We will wait until the last minute until we finally call on developing countries to walk away from the WTO talks,' said Claire Melamed, Christian Aid's head of trade policy, 'because we want to give the EU every opportunity to match its rhetoric and make an offer that is good for development.'
She continued: 'The last minute is fast approaching and the European Union has to make a dramatic u-turn in the last 48 hours before the ministerial starts. The chances of that happening are very small.'
'It is clear from the documents we have seen and from the poll of African WTO delegates that the EU in particular is proving a massive obstacle to progress', said Ms Melamed.
'It is insisting on cajoling the poorest countries to open up a huge range of services so that big European companies can benefit, while refusing to make any significant moves on cutting its agricultural subsidies.'
'What the EU is offering is a charter of self interest that puts the greed of the rich above the needs of the poor. Trade can and should work for poor people, but not like this,' she concluded.
The EU's intransigence is causing grave disappointment among African delegates heading to Hong Kong. Claire Akamanzi, the Rwandan delegate and the Chair of the African Group on Services, said that very little was on offer and that it was ëunacceptable' to African nations.
'Not much has been offered on agriculture and the EU is aggressively pursuing its own agenda on services which are not appropriate for Africa. As we are not expecting the EU to change its stance on agriculture or to pull back from its demands on services, there is unlikely to be a proper agreement reached at Hong Kong,' she said.
In its pre-WTO report, Serving the Rich: How the EU will wreck the WTO talks (downloadable *.PDF document), Christian Aid has alleged that the EU is trying to shift attention from agriculture to services and to push through an aggressive liberalising agenda that will cause untold damage to the lives of millions of poor people.
If services are liberalised, poor countries fear they will be taken over by large multinational companies who will recoup their costs by charging fees that will be well out of reach of the poorest people.
The report gives two examples of this happening: in Bolivia over water privatisation and in Kenya over health insurance. In both cases, poor people are suffering as a result of unnecessary privatisations and liberalisation.
For the EU, gains in services are the quid pro quo for losses in agricultural subsidies - one will not be acceptable without the other. Christian Aid reveals that the EU has tabled 106 revised ërequests' with other WTO members indicating precisely which service sectors it wishes to see them open up.
Christian Aid has obtained leaked copies of five of the EU's confidential-request documents. They expose its desire to ensure that European services companies gain access to fragile financial and public-utilities markets in some of the world's poorest nations.
The leaked documents show beyond doubt that the EU is determined to thrust aggressively for the liberalisation of vital services such as banking, insurance, mail, water, environmental services and all kinds of retailing.
It is also demanding that poor countries deliver up areas such as legal services, freight transport, architectural services, restaurant services and travel agencies. Many of these intrude into sectors where the state has traditionally played a pivotal role either for free or at reduced fees for the poor.
[Also on Ekklesia: Archbishop and unions back trade justice in Hong Kong; Chancellor tells churches 2005 is 'make or break' for world poverty; Christians push World Trade Organization for justice; Christian Aid laments receding trade talk hopes; Thousands call for just global trade in mass lobby of Parliament; Trade justice event to be biggest lobby this year; Santa tells Tony Blair to Make Poverty History; Christian Aid says European Union is bullying the global poor; Chancellor warns Christians that global justice will take a big haul; UK chancellor to address Christians in run up to WTO talks; G8 outcome disappoints poverty and ecology lobbies]