Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A Cheer for the WTO

Against all expectations, the WTO is proving to be more than a spineless creature of its bigger members; first it rules against US cotton subsidies, and now it condemns EU sugar subsidies as illegal.

European Union subsidies given to sugar producers have violated global trade rules, according to a preliminary ruling by the World Trade Organisation.
At a meeting in Geneva to discuss free trade, the WTO upheld a complaint filed by Brazil, Australia and Thailand.
They accused the EU of breaking trade rules by providing sugar export subsidies in excess of WTO limits.
Development agency Oxfam called the WTO's decision "a triumph for developing countries".
The WTO said that by breaking agreed limits on export subsidies the EU was hurting developing countries by undercutting their producers' prices.
Though the claim has won only preliminary backing from the WTO, the trade body rarely goes back on its original decisions.

Brazil had argued that EU export subsidies on 1.6m metric tons of sugar from mostly former European colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific should be counted within, not in addition to, the EU's agreed limits.
Brussels claimed its sugar policy was legal and warned that if Brazil chooses to boost sugar production and prices fall, this could, in turn, harm poorer developing countries, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean.
According to Brazilian Agriculture Minister Roberto Rodrigues, the decision means the EU will have to cease exporting two million tons of sugar from next year while Brazil will be allowed to export 10% more.
This is the second time in two months that Brazil has won a case against a major country's farm subsidies.
In June, it won a WTO case claiming that US cotton subsidies had undermined Brazilian farmers by driving prices artificially low.
The notion that the EU cares one whit about the trading fortunes of poorer develeping countries is laughable in the extreme - there's nothing quite like the fear of losing a WTO action to get EU representatives to start displaying a newfound concern for the exports of Third World countries. This ruling is very much to be applauded, but the big question remains: how will the WTO go about enforcing its rulings? I'd be much more likely to support the WTO's existence if only I could receive a satisfactory answer to this one question.