Farming subsidies expected to head WTO agenda

Agriculture is likely to be the biggest sticking point at the World Trade Organisation’s summit in Cancun this week.

The United Nations has called on richer countries to end the $1bn a day in agricultural subsidies that they provide to their farmers.

Critics of subsidies have claimed that the current problem is twofold: farmers in developing countries cannot compete against subsidised producers from richer nations, and they are struggling to sell their products to the domestic market because EU and American surpluses are being “dumped” there.

But the European Union and the US representatives are unlikely to compromise on the issue, despite strong political pressure.

UN Under-secretary general Anwarul Chowdhury has said that the WTO’s 149 members must “take concrete steps in the common endeavour to overcome poverty and underdevelopment amongst the teeming millions of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable countries in the world”.

And campaigners have claimed that this week’s meeting in Mexico should offer the chance to make progress on the promises of reform emerging out of the last summit in Doha two years ago.

But there has been scepticism about the possibility of reaching an agreement with both sides of the debate apparently entrenched in their positions.

Friends of the Earth has gone as far as to call for an end to the World Trade Organisation in its current form, claiming that it unfairly advantages rich countries.

“There is give and take at the moment in the world trade system and the give is all coming from the global south and the poor,” spokesperson Matt Phillips said today.

The UK’s International Development Secretary, Baroness Amos, has agreed that the world trade system situation is “untenable”, but with the UK represented by the EU at the talks that position is unlikely to be conveyed.

And Baroness Amos herself has stated that she is not expecting a deal to be struck at Cancun, suggesting that this week’s summit is “only one staging post in the process”.