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On the Collapse of WTO Talks
July 26, 2006

The collapse of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks on the so-called Doha Development Agenda is a welcome development for the people of the world. It means that the imperialist powers have been stymied, even if only momentarily, from imposing its expansive agenda of further opening up neocolonial markets. It also exposes the emptiness of the WTO's development rhetoric: the likes of the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) are in the end only concerned about protecting and promoting their respective monopoly advantages, supports and superprofits. The US in particular has once again shown its arrogant and unilateralist streak.

The stumbling block is a basically inter-imperialist dispute between the US and EU on agricultural trade reforms. The US refuses to substantially lower its farm subsidies to an extent acceptable to the EU, whom it in turn accuses of keeping barriers to trade in agricultural goods. Matters came to a head during the Group of Six (G6) meeting of the ministers of the US, EU, Japan, Australia, India and Brazil on July 23-24 that was ostensibly aimed at preparing for progress in the Doha Round during the WTO General Council meeting scheduled on July 27-28. The "suspension" of talks agreed on at an informal WTO heads of delegation meeting on July 24 will have to be made formal by the General Council.

In the Doha Round so far, the imperialist powers have succeeded in making headway towards drastic liberalization in the neocolonies in agriculture, non-agricultural market access and services. The cooperation of ruling comprador-landlord elites in the key large third world countries of Brazil and India was crucial to achieving this. Even the "development concession" of special products (SP) and special safeguard measures (SSM) were on the way to being toned down. China likewise basically supported the WTO's overall liberalization agenda even as it made tepid demands for greater concessions from the US, EU and Japan. However the US and EU were no longer able to avoid confronting each other over their respective agricultural protections.

The EU, through Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, claimed that it was open to "bringing [its] average cuts close to the level requested by the G20 group of developing countries, provided others move in parallel." Among the agricultural protections the EU still maintains are high tariffs and allegedly health-related standards (i.e. sanitary and phyto-sanitary mechanisms). The US however held firm on maintaining US$22.6 billion in domestic agricultural support and brazenly declared that it would only reduce this if it felt that it was being compensated in terms of greater market access to neocolonial and, especially, EU agricultural markets. US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns declared: "'If we can see ambition in market access, we can be ambitious, as we have been, with domestic support."

All this recalls the situation during the Uruguay Round establishing the WTO when its final conclusion was reached only after the US and EU resolved their differences over farm trade. But even then the Uruguay Round took eight years to complete while the Doha Round has been on-going for barely four-and-a-half years.

The collapse of talks is an opportunity and, at the same time, a challenge for the world's neocolonies and its people. It is an opportunity to carry forward the struggle to undermine the WTO as a sweeping mechanism for imperialist "globalization" and the ever greater exploitation of the world's people and natural resources. The underdeveloped world has already suffered much from the past decade of the WTO with worsening poverty and unemployment as well as the degradation of its already backward agricultural and industrial sectors.

Yet there is also a challenge as the big powers will now more likely use its other means for advancing their plundering agenda. The failure of the Doha Round talks to beat its 2006 deadlines hinders the WTO but still leaves imperialism with its other alternatives. It will likely more than ever use bilateral and regional arrangements where its economic and political clout is even more pronounced. The US for instance, by invading Iraq and Afghanistan, has also already shown that it is not averse to the outright waging of wars of aggression and occupation. But even without going as far as this it still has a range of overt and covert political and military interventions by which to dictate upon puppet regimes or otherwise undermine governments that are to some extent and in some ways assertive of their national interest.

We fully welcome the faltering of the WTO. But even more must we celebrate the growing resistance of genuine people's and mass movements joined by NGOS, academics and other social activists. We still confront a wide range of imperialist instruments and it is the people's resistance that drives the struggle for freedom, social justice and development. ###


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