The Guardian November 28, 2001


WTO at Doha: "A disaster for the world's poor"

by Anna Pha

WTO Director General Michael Moore hailed the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of 
the WTO as "a great success". The World Development Movement described the 
meeting's declaration as "a disaster for the world's poor". The rich 
countries of the North got the new round of negotiations, albeit by another 
name, that they were seeking. The poor countries of the South gained minor 
concessions in the field of health and acknowledgement of their concerns, 
but nothing concrete to repair the extensive damages and disadvantages that 
they suffer under existing WTO agreements. The North's win at Doha, may 
well backfire, however.

The circumstances that have brought millions of people onto the streets 
around the world will continue to worsen, and the resolve of the South to 
bring about fundamental changes to the WTO multilateral trading system will 
become stronger than ever. So too will be their anger, resentment, 
frustration, and determination after the sordid treatment that they 
received in Doha from the EU, the US, Japan, Canada and WTO officials.

The enormous contradictions brought about by globalisation under which the 
Seattle Ministerial Meeting collapsed in December 1999 remain.

The conspiratorial and undemocratic practices and the blatant manipulation, 
bullying, coercion and blackmail that plagued the Seattle meeting were 
again prevalent in Doha.

This time a collapse was only narrowly averted. Under no stretch of 
imagination can it be said that the "consensus" forced at Doha means that 
there is agreement over the contents of the Ministerial Declaration and 
other documents.

Third world countries were pressured to "save" the WTO. Despite all its 
many shortcomings the WTO,is seen as important to poor countries as a means 
to gaining better conditions of access to markets without the huge 
discriminatory tariffs that previously applied. This is one of the reasons 
that China joined, so as to avoid discriminatory tariffs (of thousands of 
percent) and bans on its exports.

As in Seattle, much of the drafting was done in the "Green Rooms", where 
WTO officials invited select groups of countries, mostly from the North, to 
thrash out positions in secret. Those who did not participate were expected 
to accept the "green room" decisions. In these secret meetings the demands 
of the South were essentially ignored.

At Doha the Green Rooms were taken a step further with the introduction of 
what Third World Network Director Martin Khor described as "Green Men".

Six men were selected by the chairman as "Friends of the Chair" to 
facilitate discussions around six key issues. These Green Men, also 
referred to by developing countries as "Friends of the Superpowers", 
continued the process of secret, select meetings, "with developing country 
delegates forced to sit around in corridors, trying to find out when 
meetings are held". (World Development Movement briefing from Doha)

The draft documents before the ministerial meeting should have been the 
work of the General Council, but instead, they were personally drafted by 
the Chairman of the WTO, who presented the material as though there was 
consensus around its contents.

The usual practice of putting areas of disagreement in square brackets, or 
presenting options when more than one point of view existed, was ignored.

South's needs ignored

The main issues, as far as the developing countries were concerned, were 
development, the implementation of existing agreements, and the 
democratisation of the WTO system. These were ignored as though they did 
not exist.

The draft documents were based on the demands of the North  the very same 
demands that had been thrown out at Seattle.

Mr Assad Shoman, Foreign Minster of Belize, speaking on behalf of the 
Caribbean countries, expressed the mood of many ministers at the meeting: 
"We feel we are being coerced into a new round of trade negotiations 
designed to benefit others, even before we have seen the benefits to us of 
the last round".

He continued, "We looked for the implementation of old commitments, but 
nothing came. We looked for a 'development round'  if we were to 
contemplate a new round at all; but we have looked in vain...

"You need to understand, Director General, that our faith in WTO processes 
is less than robust.

"We have serious problems with the procedure which is resulting in sending 
a distorted and misleading draft Ministerial Declaration to the Fourth 
Ministerial".

His was only one of a number of contributions from the African, Caribbean 
and other developing countries, including India and Brazil, that were 
scathing in their comments and rejection of the draft declarations.

The Minister of Production and Commerce from Venezuela, Dr Luisa Romero 
Bermudez, was forthright in saying that: "What is lacking in particular is 
the willingness of the industrialised countries to establish genuine 
mechanisms to open up access to their markets".

Development dimension

Dr Bermudez was arguing for the inclusion of effective and concrete 
provisions, rules and mechanisms to promote the objectives of trade 
liberalisation and to consolidate the economic and social development of 
countries  the development dimension which he said must become an 
effective part of the system.

Like many other developing countries, Venezuela pointed to the need to have 
built into the agenda the question of reforming agricultural trade that is 
of vital importance to those countries.

This agenda, he said, should "seek the abolition of the subsidies that 
destabilise the global markets in agricultural products, as well as the 
establishment of an appropriate framework for achieving the objectives of 
food security, rural development, and poverty reduction".

Over the past five years, developing countries have been forced to open 
their markets and remove tarrifs and other trade protection measurres. At 
the same time, the OECD countries, while talking incessantly about free 
trade, have increased their support for domestic agricultural products by 
50 per cent, to over US$350 billion.

This is a US$1 billion a day subsidy, roughly equal to the daily income of 
the poorest one billion people in the world.

The small farms in developing countries cannot compete with these goods on 
their own market or on European markets. They are further disadvantaged by 
the abuse of the WTO's anti-dumping rules by the North.

It is these problems in agriculture and in the clothing and textile area, 
that Third World countries want rectified NOW. Their proposals to overcome 
these highly unfair practices through such means as amendments to existing 
agreements were blocked by the EU and the US.

Instead their are vague "commitments" to negotiations aimed at improving 
market access, to phase out export subsidies and trade distorting domestic 
support schemes. But, there are no guarantees on these issues.

The final declaration is littered with empty rhetoric such as:

* "We recognise the particular vulnerability of the least developed 
countries and the special structural difficulties they face in the global 
economy"; and

* "Special and differential treatment for developing countries should be an 
integral part of all elements of the negotiations."

Lives versus patents

The proposals of African countries to strengthen traditional rights over 
natural resources and traditional knowledge against biopiracy; to ban the 
patenting of life; to make a clear statement that the Biosafety Protocol 
(allowing countries to prohibit the release of GM seeds) takes precedence 
over WTO rules were rejected. So too were measures to facilitate the 
transfer of technology.

The Swiss and US Governments did the bidding of their pharmaceutical 
corporations in what became a struggle over whether lives took priority 
over patents. They were forced to accept a separate declaration on public 
health.

This declaration affirms that the agreement on Trade Related Intellectual 
Property rights (TRIPS) "can and should be interpreted and implemented in a 
manner supportive of WTO members' right to protect public health and, in 
particular, to promote access to medicines for all.

"Each member has the right to determine what constitutes a national 
emergency, or other circumstances of extreme urgency, it being understood 
that public health crises, including those relating to HIV/AIDS, 
tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics, can represent a national 
emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency."

Under such circumstances it is now acknowledged that member countries have 
the right to protect public health!

While the decision did not amend the TRIPS agreement as sought by the 
African countries, Brazil and India, the pharmaceutical corporations and 
supportive governments will be under a substantial moral obligation to 
accept these provisions which, up to now, they have resisted by every means 
possible.

This does not mean that the US or its pharmaceutical corporations will give 
up, but it should make it easier for governments to import or produce in 
their own countries cheaper generic medicines in national emergencies  a 
right they should have always had.

New Round

The Declaration gives the North a new round of negotiations taking in the 
new issues of investment, competition policy, government procurement and 
trade facilitation, issues that are strongly opposed by the majority of 
developing countries. The new round goes under the thinly disguised name of 
Work Program in the pretence that it is not a new round.

To get it adopted, negotiations on the new issues are essentially 
structured in two stages.

The first stage, to be concluded by the next ministerial meeting in 2003, 
involves "clarification" or "review" of the various issues associated with 
a new agreement. The second stage, following the ministerial meeting, would 
involve "negotiations" on the various commitments to be made by countries.

A further commitment will be required at the end of the first stage before 
the next stage can be commenced.

The South was quite categoric that it was not in a position to commence a 
new round of negotiations without FIRST having the issues associated with 
existing agreements implemented.

The concerns of the South (agriculture, intellectual property rights, 
market access, etc) will be incorporated in the new round instead of being 
resolved first. In effect, agreements already entered into by the North are 
not to be implemented without further negotiations.

The North will be able to use them as a bargaining chip and as a weapon to 
gain its own demands in the area of competition policy, investment and so 
on.

These implementation issues were already used as a bargaining chip in the 
earlier GATT Uruguay round when developing countries reluctantly agreed to 
the inclusion of services and intellectual property and investment in 
return for promises of market access and reduction in subsidies and 
tariffs.

These commitments by the North were not honoured and are still outstanding.

Labour & environment

The section dealing with core labour standards in the declaration takes 
note of work underway at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) but 
does not agree to accept the ILO's work as a basis for its own decisions.

The door is being opened for the North to use labour standards as a means 
to discriminate against imports from developing countries when they are 
eventually forced to reduce tariffs and subsidies on agricultural products, 
clothing and textiles.

They will be able to do this through the cross-retaliatory provisions of 
the WTO system, whereby a breach of undertakings (standards) in one area 
can be punished in another area of trade.

The North has also forced the inclusion of environmental questions in the 
declaration. This sudden concern for the environment by the North is the 
height of hypocrisy.

If they were really concerned, then countries such as the US would sign the 
Kyoto protocols and set about implementing them.

Like their new-found interest in labour standards, the North is looking to 
use environmental standards as a means to exclude or restrict imports from 
developing countries.

Australia plays despicable role

The Australian Government, represented by outgoing Minster for Finance and 
Administration John Fahey, played a despicable role, tagging along with the 
US and Canada throughout negotiations.

Australia supported the new round and the new issues while paying token 
recognition to the concern of the developing countries.

Its submission was hypocritical in the extreme, claiming to protect the 
weak from the strong  "so we can all trade, fairly and equally".

While the developing countries lost the battle at Doha itself, there are a 
number of developments that could return to haunt the North.

The incredible pressure that developing countries were placed under during 
the Doha meeting will not be forgotten quickly.

A huge amount of resentment and hatred has been built up towards the US and 
others that were pressuring them to accede to documents against their own 
interests and with which they did not agree.

Standover merchants

They were told that a setback at Doha could damage prospects of economic 
recovery in the face of global recession, and would also be extremely 
damaging to the WTO itself.

All of this was played out on the background of the "war against 
terrorism", where the US has identified 64 potential targets, and is openly 
talking about replacing governments in Afghanistan and Iraq with ones to 
its liking.

The linkages made by Bush at the United Nations, and by the US trade 
representative at Doha between the threat of terrorism and the "success" of 
the WTO were thinly veiled threats to countries wishing to take a stand 
against the US.

As Chakravarthi Raghavan, chief editor of the South-North Development 
Monitor (SUNS) pointed out: "The new round, and the rules to be 
negotiated added on to the injustice, will create much social and other 
unrest everywhere... and that will sew seeds for terrorism".

Together with the bullying went thinly veiled blackmail. For example, when 
the European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy promised E50 million to 
the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in a language that suggested 
that it was conditional on these countries agreeing to a new round, he was 
met with jeering and hissing from several delegates, making it clear they 
were not for sale.

One delegate afterwards queried, "How long are they going to lure us with 
money, to chain us to conditions we cannot find acceptable?"

Cuba strongly opposed the launching of a new round of trade negotiations.

"Third World countries must strengthen our unity and solidarity around the 
defence of our rights and interests, our economies, our hopes of 
development for all", said Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, the Minister speaking on 
behalf of the Cuban Government.

"The industrialised countries must understand that without the development 
of today's underdeveloped countries, the very well-being of the former will 
be jeopardised in the short or the medium term. The time has come for all 
of us to work together to avoid a catastrophe that is coming upon us, and 
whose consequences cannot be predicted."

The Cuban Minister pointed out that a new round of negotiations "... would 
in fact convert [the WTO] into a forum that is increasingly unjust and 
indifferent to the needs and concerns of its poorest members."

He put forward a number of proposals, including: the total cancellation of 
the official bilateral and multilateral debt of all underdeveloped 
countries; the cancellation of private debt of countries with a GDP per 
capita of less than $2000, a 50 percent reduction for countries with a GDP 
per capita of US$2,000  $6000; and the establishment of a fund to provide 
compensation to debtor countries for the profound economic and social 
imbalances resulting from the policies they have been forced to implement 
to manage their debts.

The resources for such a fund could be obtained, for example, from the 
US$350 billion that OECD countries spend annually on agricultural 
subsidies. But even this amount would still be insufficient.

Positive features

One of the positive features of this conference was the growing unity 
between the poor countries.

In the lead-up to the meeting a number of groupings such as the African 
Group, the African-Caribbean-Pacific Group, the Least Developed Countries 
Group, who and developed common positions on major issues.

At the next Ministerial Meeting due in 2003 the developing countries should 
be in a far stronger position to stand up for their rights.

Not only will they have had the experience of this meeting, but China will 
also be there bringing about some change in the balance of forces.

China, the largest of the developing countries, sees one of its roles as 
helping other developing countries.

At the end of the Doha meeting, the Director General Michael Moore thanked 
delegates for "saving the WTO" but the conduct of Moore and the standover 
tactics of the developed countries may well have sown the seeds for the 
demise of their domination of the WTO.

The Third World countries, which are the overwhelming majority, demand that 
the WTO implement agreements already entered into and attend to the needs 
of the developing countries whose people are now experiencing poverty, mass 
unemployment, endless discrimination, ill-health and lack of educational 
opportunities  all imposed on them by the rich countries and, in 
particular, the big corporations.

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This article concludes this WTO series.

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