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Textually transmitted uneasiness

18 December 2005

As those protesters still at liberty rally once more on the streets of Hong Kong, what looks likely to be the final text for the WTO's sixth ministerial has landed.

The NGOs here have gone berserk. Briefly, the deal includes the following howlers:

  • The much-trumpeted end date for agricultural subsidies will be 2013. But there, in reality, amounts to a minute cut and does effectively locks in the prospect of continued dumping of cheap goods overseas
  • Tariffs protecting manufactured goods will be slashed by a "Swiss formula". In short, poor countries will be required to make greater cuts to the protection they offer their industries than rich countries
  • To the wrath of Zambia - the chair of the least developed countries - the services passage includes a commitment to "plurilateral negotiations" and deadlines for liberalising trade in services. Anyone want to buy a school?
  • Even the development package, lauded as a leap forward in promoting the economic development of the Third World, has been qualified. In theory, it was supposed to allow the poorest countries to export everything they produce to lucrative Western markets, with no duties levied or quotas imposed. But now it seems the United States will be able to block textiles from Bangladesh.

Brazil and India, leaders of the G20 bloc of the largest developing countries, have just briefed the press. Both, it appears, have sold the poorest countries down the river for a few political points and a whiff of a boost for their largest exporters. Now the heads of delegations are gathering for the crunch huddle on whether to accept the final draft. This could, campaigning economists are frantically telling us, be endgame for the world's poorest people.

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