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OXFAM Blames Rich Countries for Trade Talks Collapse

With the collapse of the DOHA round of the trade talks, many groups are accusing rich nations, including the United States, of refusing to make concessions to help poor countries.

Stephanie Burgos is a senior policy advisor for OXFAM America. In Washington, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the failure of the trade talks.

"OXFAM sees this as a major disappointment. At a time when food and fuel prices are high and the economy globally seems uncertain, the world's poorest people are increasingly vulnerable and we're seeing this as a real opportunity for an agreement that could help lift people out of poverty by promoting trade. Unfortunately, although there were genuine efforts made, we believe that the developed countries offered reforms that were largely illusory and at the same time were demanding quite harsh concessions from developing countries," she says.

She says that if talks were ever to re-start they would need to be "reframed with a more pro-development outlook."

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab says in a statement, "While we made good progress during the past week, it is clear that despite our best efforts we will not be able to reach a breakthrough at this time…. To ensure that the advances…are not lost, the United States will continue to stand by our current offers, but we maintain that they are still contingent on others coming forward with ambitious offers that will create new market access. So far, that ambition is not evident."

Burgos responds, "Certainly, we think that the US offer was an important first step. But we don't think that the reduction in trade distorting subsidies that was put on the table by the US goes far enough. And at the same time, the market openings that Ambassador Schwab is talking about, we believe that there were certainly offers that were put on the table by all countries concerned. However, we do think that the balance that needs to be reached between the level of reduction in trade distorting subsidies and the market openings…was simply not fair for developing countries."

Ambassador Schwab also says, "Regrettably, our negotiations deadlocked on the scope of a safeguard mechanism to remedy surges in imported agricultural products. Any safeguard mechanism must distinguish between the legitimate need to address exceptional situations involving sudden and extreme import surges and a mechanism that can be abused. In the face of the global food crisis, we simply could not agree to a result that would raise more barriers to world food trade."

The OXFAM senior policy advisor says, "We don't think that a safeguard mechanism is raising barriers to trade. In fact, a safeguard mechanism…is important for poor countries to be able to ensure that their agricultural production is stimulated."