Letters: WTO talks failure

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WTO talks failure is a tragedy for the developing world, and for us

Sir: As Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organisation, suspends the Doha Development Agenda talks after the United States, the EU, Japan, Brazil, India and Australia took turns to blame each other, it's worth asking who will suffer as a result, and whether anyone, anywhere, stands to benefit.

In 1986 President Ronald Reagan described the Uruguay Round as being "aimed at virtually eliminating agricultural subsidies worldwide within a 10-year period". We all agreed. We then failed with the Uruguay Round - and now we have failed with the Doha Round. Just how much longer do the victims of agricultural subsidies have to wait? How can developing countries ever trust world trade negotiations again?

Nobody benefits from one-sided, protectionist, regional or bilateral trade agreements. If we really are newly global citizens, we must act as such. Economic success is a fine thing, but when it comes despite or even at the expense of the world's poorest people, 80 per cent of whom live in the Commonwealth, then it is nothing at all.

Trade - coupled with fair and efficient government- is the most effective route out of poverty that we know. So smell the coffee, rich countries. Allow poor countries the capacity to trade. Get back to the negotiating table; agree to agree. You have already come a very long way. What a bleedin' shame if it's the poor who suffer as you apportion your blame.



Sir: The world is lucky that the trade talks have collapsed. The outdated dogmas of agricultural free trade and globalisation are incompatible with the realities of climate change and the looming "peak" in oil production. It is surely morally repugnant to source our food from countries whose capacity to feed their own population is in decline? It is equally deplorable to eat chicken fed on soya grown in Amazonia. Fortunately, energy costs will soon make such "free trade" uneconomic.

With food production threatened by an increasingly unstable climate it is obvious that Britain and the EU must seek to maintain a reasonable level of local food security at least as urgently as we are reconsidering our energy policies.



Don't judge Israel from far away

Sir: I agree with Bruce Anderson's point (Opinion, 24 July) that the wave of condemnation of Israel's assault on Lebanon emanating from across Europe is largely irrelevant in the Middle East. Similarly, it is easy to make moral judgements from within the EU, a conflict-free safe haven.

Much of our foreign policy with our local neighbours is based on trade, economics and political posturing, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's foreign-policy decisions are set against the backdrop of countries that, given the means and the opportunity, would wipe Israel off the map. In this situation, moral considerations are secondary to the survival of Israel and the protection of its people. War is a dirty business. We have numerous remembrance ceremonies of past European wars, but do we really remember its grim day-to-day realities?

Yet this does not excuse the excessive force in Lebanon or inexcusable treatment of the Palestinians (although civilian casualties are inevitable when Hizbollah hides behind the civilians of southern Lebanon).

Israel has shown it can have peaceful relations with its neighbours, such as Jordon and Syria, who are reasonable and accept Israel as a sovereign nation. Hamas' conflict with Israel is just as pragmatic as it is ideological, and one suspects a viable Palestinian state would be enough to severely diminish any ideological qualms.

But Israel is also faced with enemies that reject the very notion of Israel, and survival must override morality. So, as Hizbollah is one of these enemies, the only relevant question is, "Is this war strategically sound?"



Sir: Bruce Anderson is wrong to say, "No one has ever looked foolish by sounding gloomy about the Middle East". A century ago, the region was bubbling with ideas and experiments, universal education, women's liberation, parliamentary democracy, the secular state, scientific revival.

That was before the British and French decided they should take control of the Arab world, with the help of Zionists and local stooges. We were nearly forgiven after Dwight Eisenhower, then US President, secured our withdrawal from Suez in 1956 and after Harold Macmillan's "Wind of Change" blew away the remains of the Empire.

Now George Bush and Tony Blair have put relations with Islam back to the state they were in during the Crusades, except that then Europe was still learning from the Arabs about science, mathematics and medicine.



Sir: Unlike Dominic Lawson ("For Israel, this is a "proportionate" response", 25 July) I believe national survival is not determined by the slaughter of hundreds of innocent women and children but undermined by it. Unlike Mr Lawson, I expect more of a country founded on the experience of genocide, and I would also expect that it does not do unto others which others do unto it. A more civilised response is proportionate.

Miriam Karlin (Letters, 25 July) is right. The obscenity of the "war on terror" is the context in which Israel has chosen to pour more fuel on the flames of hatred for the West. Stopping the criminal neglect of the Palestinian people, and resolving their plight, not by constructing walls of division and imposing punitive sanctions but through negotiation and compromise, is the only way forward.

That our Government has consented as Israel has pursued its ethnic cleansing in Lebanon brings shame on Britain. Tony Blair's legacy will be measured in decades of hatred, and to think it all started with promises of "ethical" foreign policies in 1997.



Sir: I am perplexed and disturbed by Sir Geoffrey Chandler's strong assertions (Letters, 25 July). When he says "the underlying cause of Middle East terrorism [is] the unlawful occupation of Palestinian land" he repeats a mantra which bears no relationship to reality.

Hizbollah and Hamas regard the entire "Zionist entity" (aka Israel) as being on occupied Palestinian land. I assume Sir Geoffrey is not calling for the elimination of Israel, but I would be impressed if he could point to consistent agreement among Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians about what borders would not involve "occupation".

The tragedy before us is painful. If solutions are to be found, they will be found in careful and informed debate and negotiation. May these solutions be worked on and discovered speedily in our day.



Sir: Is it possible that the actions of Israel in Lebanon are not merely collective punishment but are part of a long-term strategy? David Ben-Gurion, Israel's former prime minister, wrote in 1973: "It is necessary that the water sources, upon which the future of the land depends, should not be outside the borders of the future Jewish homeland.

"For this reason, we have always demanded that the land of Israel includes the southern banks of the Litani River, the headwaters of the Jordan, and the Hauran Region from the El Auja spring south of Damascus."

The forced evacuation of the Lebanese population from southern Lebanon and the proposed UN buffer zone between Israel and the Litani River would certainly not harm plans Israel may have to expand its northern border.



How Gladstone lost the poll on tax cuts

Sir: Chris Huhne MP is right to call for a "green tax switch" ("Green taxes are the way to change our world", 5 July).

While there is a case for proposing more targeted taxes, reforming the existing tax system to meet climate-change challenges should also not be ruled out. One area which is so far relatively unexplored in the debate over green taxation is local business rates, which tax the occupancy of commercial property at more than £16bn a year.

More than 40 per cent of energy is lost through commercial premises across the UK. Policy has focused on promoting the energy efficiency of new developments, yet if we are serious about reducing our CO 2 emissions we must look at existing property.

The use of business rates could be an incentive to invest in improving the energy efficiency of their present buildings.

Using a property tax relief to encourage "greener" buildings would make sense and the introduction of the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive - where properties are to be graded on their energy efficiency - provides the ideal opportunity to consider such a measure.



Appeal for church's musical treasure

Sir: We are proud to be patrons of Ensemble XXI Moscow. We have conducted, played with and encouraged the orchestra in Russia and abroad. Its founders, Lygia O'Riordan and Pia Siirala, are our former students. Ensemble XXI Moscow has been the resident orchestra of St Andrew's Anglican Church in Moscow for more than 11 years, during which time we have been delighted to rehearse, record and attend concerts there. St Andrew's was one of the few churches to be saved due to its acoustics, and where many of the Soviet Union's greatest musicians recorded.

You may think the Anglican Church would be proud to host these world-class musicians. Instead, they have been evicted from the church, which has paralysed their activities. Ensemble XXI is a musical treasure. We appeal to the Anglican Church and the British Embassy to recognise that they have a most valuable asset, which should be nurtured.

Ensemble XXI Moscow's work is tireless within Russia. They travel the vast territory of the country, from the Arctic Circle to the Russian far east (even giving the premiere beyond the Urals of Handel's Messiah) playing for audiences forgotten since the subsidies for the arts in the former Soviet Union ceased. Their work in playing with the indigenous people of Russia and preserving their music from Neolithic times is truly historical.







The doctor will see you any time, now

Sir: I refer to "The doctor won't see you now"(article, 18 July). It seems as if only the "bad" items are reported, not the good. But for every story about a bad doctor's surgery there is at least one good one.

I may be lucky but my doctor provides the following services for patients on his list:

1) Open surgery from 0900 to 1030: you can consult a doctor, nurse practitioner or nurse.

2) Surgery by appointment from 1600 to 1815.

3) Appointments booked online weeks in advance.

4) Repeat prescriptions ordered online.

5) Doctors available by phone from 0830 to 0900 and 1530 to 1600.

6) Doctors available for e-mail consultation.

The surgery also operates a good website with most information you would want as a patient and also provides very handy links to other areas of health care.



Bugged by bug

Sir: The hospital bug Clostridium difficile is distressing enough without having to hear its name mispronounced by media presenters (with one exception, Jon Snow). Both words are Latin, so all their vowels are pronounced, making difficile a four-syllable word. Spread this news?



Hawking was right

Sir: Alison Davies (Letters, 25 July) describes embryos that will never be developed as "some of the most vulnerable of my fellow human beings". I fear she is confusing tadpoles with frogs. I think she has also misunderstood Stephen Hawking's analogy of the car-crash victim used in a heart-transplant. The car-crash victim is functioning physically (with mechanical aid) but will never live again, and with the heart transplant the victim's life-support ends. The analogy with unwanted embryos is an excellent one.



Fuel not faddiness

Sir: Your assertion that few people eat traditional food any more because it is mostly revolting (Leading article, 24 July) is only part of the story. Lardy cake is indeed a "heart attack on a plate" for someone who is to spend the afternoon tinkering with a spreadsheet, or shuffling paper but it would have supplied much-needed energy to workers of the past. You cannot shift 20 tons of coal on a caesar salad and a sparkling mineral water.



Stinging secrets

Sir: With regard to insect-sting injuries (Letters, 25 July), a honey bee leave its stings behind because, sadly, the stingee invariably panics and swipes it off, gutting the poor thing and killing it in protracted agony. My father was a bee-keeper and one of the more useful things he taught me was that if you try to keep calm when stung, the bee literally screws itself out, walking around in circles before withdrawing its sting up its little backside.



Sir: Treating stings is simple . As my granny used to say, use: "Vinegar for Vasps, Bicarb for Bees." Just dab it on; works every time. Why? Wasp stings are alkali, bee stings are acid.



Horse sense

Sir: There's the difference, you see. When the jockey Paul O'Neill butted his fractious horse, City Affairs, it just "stared back with a magnificent blend of apathy and mockery" (article, 25 July). If it it had been an Italian mount, it would no doubt have thrown itself on its back, writhing in agony and whinnying for a red card to be shown.