[OPE-L] Oxfam battles against free trade agreements

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sun Apr 08 2007 - 08:22:31 EDT

DEVELOPMENT: Free Trade Enslaving Poor Countries
Sanjay Suri

LONDON, Mar 20 (IPS) - The new free trade agreements being signed up between
rich and poor countries are proving far more damaging to the poor than
anything envisaged within WTO talks, Oxfam said in a report Tuesday.

"Poor countries are being forced into very deep tariff cuts," Emily Jones,
author of the Oxfam report 'Signing Away the Future' told IPS. "These are
often being reduced to zero under reciprocal so-called free trade agreements
they are being forced to sign with rich countries."

That means poor countries are having to open up their markets to subsidised
agricultural products from places like the EU, she said.

There are already more than 250 regional and bilateral agreements in
existence and more under negotiation, the report says. Regional and
bilateral trade deals now govern more than 30 percent of world trade, and 25
developing countries have now signed free trade agreements with developed

"An average of two bilateral investment treaties are signed every week, the
report says. "Virtually no country, however poor, has been left out."

The agreements undermine moves to development, the report says.

"In an increasingly globalised world, these agreements seek to benefit
rich-country exporters and firms at the expense of poor farmers and workers,
with grave implications for the environment and development," it says.

The United States and the EU are pushing through rules on intellectual
property that reduce poor people's access to life-saving medicines, increase
the prices of seeds and other farming inputs beyond the reach of small
farmers, and make it harder for developing-country firms to access new
technology, the report says.

Governments are sometimes showing themselves powerless against such moves.

"Some developing countries find themselves between a rock and a hard place,"
said Jones. "Many are signing up to these so-called economic partnership
agreements for fear of losing preferences," Jones said. Many of these
countries have been offered export preferences in return for dropping
tariffs against imports from developed countries.

The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has brought 1.3 million job
losses in Mexico in ten years, Jones said. Increased exports to the United
States have failed to generate growth, and some studies show that the real
wages in 2004 were less than in 1994, Jones said.

The rules on liberalisation of services in such agreements threaten to drive
local firms out of business, reduce competition, and extend the monopoly
power of large companies, the report says.

"When Mexico liberalised financial services in 1993 in preparation for
NAFTA, foreign ownership of the banking system increased to 85 percent in
seven years, but lending to Mexican businesses dropped from 10 percent of
gross domestic product (GDP) to 0.3 per cent, depriving poor people living
in rural areas of vital sources of credit." (...)

Complete articles: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=37010

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