Thursday, December 01, 2005

The biggest story you aren't hearing about - WTO talks in Hong Kong

Because global trade is difficult to digest into soundbytes and simple phrases, they don't get reported on enough. Therefore you are off the hook for not knowing that the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference will be held in Hong Kong, China, 13–18 December 2005. In general, ministerial conferences are the WTO’s highest decision-making body, meeting at least once every two years and providing political direction for the organization. Some background on global trade and the WTO can be found here.

This is the first meeting after the failed Cancun talks in December of 2003. The biggest sticking point, then and now, is the HUGE subsidies that America, Japan, Canada, and Europe give their farmers. These subsidies keep more efficient and cheaper produce from developing countries from your supermarket. In Cancun the G20, headed by Brazil, China and India stopped efforts by the EU, Japan and the USA from enshrining those subsidies in global law. Two years on and where are we?

First, France and Japan have refused to budge on reducing subsidies. The EU is led by Britain for these 6 months and trade negioator, Peter Mendelson, has been pushing hard for a reduction in subsidies. Europe has offered to reduce its tariffs on incoming produce by 60%. Even with that reduction, foreign produce would still be more expensive than European produce. The US countered with a drop in 60% of farming subsidies and an eventual phase-out. It still isn't enough for the G20. Time has an excellent article on the "Farm Fight."

I couldn't agree more with Al Blinder who wrote Progressives should be for progress on this exact subject. Yet, headlines like these, Free trade loses steam concern me.

Free and fair trade opens the door for millions of people to get out of extreme poverty. America can't possibly send a check to every single person living on one dollar a day, but trade allows those folks to contribute, make something worthwhile and earn a fair way. It provides independence, economic freedom and a road to social justice. All the thing I hold so dearly.

So please make One Big Noise and tell President Bush to keep up the good work on opening the barriers to free trade. Don't allow the special interests of certain agricultural states to keep millions in poverty!