Poverty campaigners slam WTO meeting as ‘wasted opportunity’

Make Poverty History and the Trade Justice Movement have condemned the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Hong Kong for “squandering” the potential for improving the lot of the world’s poorest people.

The Global Call to Action Against Poverty, of which MPH is the UK arm, was so dismayed at the performance of the EU negotiators that it asked Peter Mandelson, the trade commissioner, to remove his white wristband.

MPH said that EU decision-makers had been quick to repeat the words of trade justice campaigners when responding to the public in 2005, but had not changed their policies and practices.

Glen Tarman, co-ordinator of the TJM, said: “The intransigence of rich countries means the agreement reached is far from just for the poor of the world.” He said there was useful progress in one area - special measures to protect vulnerable farmers in poor countries from liberalisation.

But Phil Bloomer, campaign director of Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair, said: “Small progress in agriculture is more than cancelled out by extremely damaging agreements on services and industry.”

Commitments in Hong Kong include wealthy nations ending subsidies for farm exports by 2013 and the phasing out by next year of export subsidies on cotton. Less developed countries with a per capita income of less than £400 a year will be allowed duty-free, quota-free access for 97 per cent of their exports from 2008.

Many participants, including Alan Johnson, the UK trade and industry secretary, were disappointed that the US refused to give more access to their markets to developing countries.

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