341 global civil society organizations – including development advocates, trade unions, farmers’ organizations, consumer and environmental groups from over 100 countries – sent a letter to WTO members today urging them to abandon the WTO expansion talks and instead focus on an urgent agenda to fix existing damaging rules in the WTO.
July 31, 2015 is the date by which WTO member agreed last November last year to come up with Work Programme to resurrect the WTO. It must be remembered that developing countries only agreed to launch a new round of negotiations in order to address problems with the previous round that resulted in the founding of the WTO in 1995. Since then, they have advocated a series of fixes to the existing agreements. Many of their proposals dovetail with calls from global civil society for a turnaround in the global trade agenda. But the United States wants to clear the deck of the development demands and get on with introducing even more radical liberalization agenda.
The letter notes that “[n]egotiations to further liberalize ‘trade in services’ through the expansion of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) must be immediately halted. Strong public oversight over both public and private services is crucial for democracy, the public interest and development, as well as for the orderly functioning of the services market. The deregulation of the financial sector which was encouraged in part through 1990s–era rules of GATS led to the recent global financial crisis and the ensuing worldwide wave of recessions.”
“For similar reasons we oppose the continuation of negotiations to further liberalize trade in goods through the Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) pillar,” continues the letter. “Any future negotiations on trade in goods – including those in the NAMA negotiations but also in the proposed pluri-laterals including the expansion of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA-II) and the negotiations on Environmental Goods – must focus on job creation and the Decent Work agenda developed by the International Labor Organization working in conjunction with the global labor movement, rather than on the narrow agenda of reducing corporate taxes.”
The letter also alerted members to the agenda to permanently sideline the Doha Round in order to introduce “new issues” that would further the profit interests of transnational corporations that have been strongly rejected by developing countries in the past, including investment, government procurement, and transparency, as well as e-commerce, disciplining state-owned industries, and negotiations on environmental goods and services.
Developed countries seems to be intending to do this by getting rid of the Doha Round: either by concluding a smaller version or by permanently suspending it. The shenanigans involved in the negotiations have gotten out of hand: secret “Green Room” meetings where zero African countries and zero LDCs are invited. As the former leader of the alliance of all developing countries in the WTO when he was Brazil’s Ambassador, Director General Azevêdo should be ashamed.
The letter argued, “Instead, developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have made concrete proposals regarding the development mandate, including implementation issues, strengthening and operationalizing Special and Differential Treatment (SDT), agricultural reform, and LDCs issues, and it is these issues which must be re-prioritized as the agenda rather than discussing more “market access” for developed country corporations.”
It continued, “[a]long with the SDT agenda, members must urgently begin negotiations to change the current rules on trade in agriculture, and in particular to address long-standing concerns about the existing trade-distorting subsidies that developed countries agreed years ago to curtail or eliminate.” At the same time, the U.S. is refusing to talk about previously agreed flexibilities to allow developing countries to deal with devastating agricultural import surges (called the Special Safeguard Mechanism) and even insisting that all flexibilities for developing countries must be dropped.
“On a parallel track, we urge members to immediately agree to a permanent solution on food security, by allowing public stockholding programs for resource-poor farmers to be allowed in the ‘Green Box.’ WTO members must move beyond the outrageous blockage by the United States of the proposal to allow the developing countries to engage in public stockholding programs to support impoverished agricultural producers as well as ensure food security for their hungry populations. Members must urgently agree to remove this WTO obstacle to the Right to Food.”
The letter from civil society concludes: “for the Nairobi Ministerial to be a ‘success,’ it must deliver on development and turn around the WTO.”