Trade Meeting Mixed Bag for Consumers. (from Consumer Alert)

By Rippel, Barbara | Consumers' Research Magazine, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Trade Meeting Mixed Bag for Consumers. (from Consumer Alert)


Rippel, Barbara, Consumers' Research Magazine


The big news from the World Trade Organization's Ministerial Meeting in Doha, Qatar last month was the agreement to start a new multilateral trade round, but the overall results of the Doha negotiations were mixed for consumers. Despite the economic wisdom that open trade is generally good for their citizens, governments more often consider international trade negotiations as a venue to defend special interests and issues of "national pride." Consumers' interests are not usually the major focus. At Doha, negotiators focused on the critical need to start a new multilateral trade round, especially in light of the global economic situation.

Some good news for consumers did emerge from Doha. Anti-dumping, a sacred cow for U.S. negotiators during the last meeting in Seattle, has been put on the negotiating table. U.S. anti-dumping laws have long been a thorn in the side of its trading partners, as well as of consumers and user industries at home.

Agriculture negotiations showed the expected frictions between protectionist-leaning countries, such as Japan and the countries of the European Union, and countries depending on agricultural exports, such as the members of the Cairns group. However, France was the only country that tried to block any mention of an intent to phase out agricultural export subsidies in the text of the Ministerial declaration. While the declaration does include a mention of an intent to phase out agricultural export subsidies--a step that would be helpful to many developing countries' competitive chances--no one expects any quick results in that area.

Non-trade concerns, however, will be included in the negotiations-an issue that opens the door for a broad range of reasons to resist the dismantling of domestic subsidy programs. Non-trade concerns can include support for environmental programs, rural development and other social objectives.

Several countries, such as Japan and Norway, consider agriculture a special sector that provides multiple functions needing substantial state support. Others, especially many developing countries, see those concerns as a way for industrial countries to continue their high-level subsidy programs for their agricultural sectors. …

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