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Call To Action — WTO Turnaround: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Development First

The Council of Canadians has endorsed the following call to action from the Our World is Not For Sale network on the WTO in advance of a Ministerial meeting in Geneva this December that will decide the fate of the global trade organization. While observers of the WTO and even many member representatives have declared over the past year that the Doha round of negotiations is stalled or dead, there are proposals on the table, including a vague one from Canada, which would try to salvage something from the wreckage.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast told reporters last week, “Canada certainly isn’t going to give up on the Doha Round. We are developing a number of proposals for consideration in December when we meet next in Geneva and I know a number of our other trading partners are doing the same.”

The article references Australia as having proposed quick implementation of on issues where there is agreement and then a resetting of the talks. Australia’s trade minister made a speech on October 17 in which he riffed morbidly on the theme of death–“The Doha Round is dying, lying comatose,” “the patient is in very bad shape,” “the next stop for Doha is the mortuary,” “A death in the family is no trivial matter,” “An inquest would ordinarily follow,” etc–before proposing, as Britain’s David Cameron has, that existing and so-called “new” issues (services, climate) could be negotiated by, in Cameron’s words, a “coalition of the willing.”

Traditionally global trade talks have advanced as a whole package with all GATT and then WTO members having to agree. Now several developed countries, which have avoided developing nation demands at the WTO (see statement below) for years, would like to see more plurilateral agreements such as the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement where they could pursue even deeper liberalization of tariffs and services. A small group of countries has already done this to move ahead on intellectual property rights through the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which many countries and experts call anti-trade for strengthening the monopoly rights of large pharmaceutical, copyright and biotech patent holders. The statement below explains why this “coalition” approach is not at all the way to go.

Canadians only really hear about the WTO when Canada is either taking another country (or being taken) to dispute settlement over this or that policy. Increasingly those policies are related to environmental measures or job creation strategies. Japan and the EU are challenging Ontario’s Green Energy Act, which they consider to offer illegal subsidies and treatment for local wind and solar producers. The EU and US are criticizing India for the same reasons. Canada is similarly threatening to bring European Union fuel quality measures to the WTO if they discriminate against tar sands crude based on its higher carbon content.

As the OWINFS statement says:

While several aspects of current WTO rules should be altered to allow more policy space for countries to protect the environment and pursue sustainable development policies, there are many other multilateral agencies which are far more appropriate venues for the discussion of and implementation of rules related to the global climate than the WTO.

Canada has also preferred to sign bilateral free trade deals over the past five years to putting any serious effort into the multilateral WTO. The Canada-EU free trade negotiations are a direct result of WTO failure, with both Canada and the EU hoping to set a new standard for neoliberal governance in their Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

Nonetheless, if there is a faint chance the WTO will endure, we should continue to call for a more fair and just trading system that leaves room for local solutions to the related climate, economic, social and food crises. This OWINFS statement offers a strong critique of the existing WTO and bilateral “free” trade model while offering more development and sustainable alternatives. The Council of Canadians, as a member of the OWINFS network, will be monitoring the Harper government’s actions in the weeks leading up to the 8th WTO Ministerial meeting in Geneva this December.


WTO Turnaround: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Development First
Call to Action!

October 2011This December 15-17, 2011, Ministers will convene in Geneva, Switzerland for an 8th WTO Ministerial Meeting. After many failed Ministerial meetings and nearly ten years of negotiations, the Doha Round of WTO expansion is at a crossroads. Increasingly, developed countries have tried to push aside agreements to negotiate on key developing country issues intended to correct the imbalances within the existing WTO, which formed the basis of the development mandate of Doha. Instead, rich-country governments appear to be re-packaging the old liberalization and market access demands of their corporate interests as so-called “21st century” issues.

At the same time, the emergence of the global financial, food, economic, and other crises – which the WTO’s privatization and liberalization rules contributed to, and failed to prevent – provides an opportunity to reflect on the serious problems endemic to the particular model of globalization that the WTO has consolidated globally.

Thus, the Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network asserts that the global trade framework must provide countries sufficient policy space to pursue a positive agenda for development and job-creation, and that trade rules must facilitate, rather than hinder, global efforts to ensure true food security, sustainable economic development, global access to health and medicines, and global financial stability. In order to achieve these goals, many current WTO policies must be fixed and many aspects of the 2001-launched Doha Round agenda must be transformed. Specifically, we call on governments to transform the WTO through the following:

1. We Demand Jobs and Industrial Development Policy Space

Following the global financial and economic crisis, the situation of unemployment has deteriorated even further in rich and poor countries alike. Yet rather than prioritizing job-creation, the WTO framework focuses on reducing tariffs and forcing workers to compete in an uneven playing field, resulting in further erosion of jobs, rather than on using trade to increase employment. Even worse, Doha Round proposals (particularly the so-called “Swiss formula” for industrial tariff cuts) would slash tariffs in developing countries even more than in rich countries, which would further erode decent jobs in key industries. Already vulnerable developing countries should not have to “pay” for fixes to the current global trading system with offering more market access, which would destroy their prospects for industrial development.

– Any current or future agreement must focus on using trade to expand employment, rather than just cutting tariffs.

– Developing countries did not cause the global economic crisis but are suffering from it, and should not be forced to reduce tariffs during a global unemployment crisis.

– In any future negotiations on goods, the Swiss formula should be abandoned, and talks must be based on the mandate of Less Than Full Reciprocity; discussions on sectorals must be voluntary; and there should be no anti-concentration clause, as countries must maintain the flexibility to protect vulnerable and labor-intensive sectors.

2. We Demand the Right to Protect the Policy Space for Development

Trade must be available to developing countries to be utilized as a tool for development. Trade is not the goal per se. If the actual result of trade under the current or proposed rules hinders the ability of poor people and poor countries to develop, then new rules are needed. Starting well before the 2001 Doha Round, developing countries have put forward myriad proposals in the WTO that would allow them to access the benefits of trade while maintaining policy space for development. These include the original proposals, referred to as the “Implementation Issues,” drafted a decade ago and submitted an as alternative to the Doha Round agenda that are designed to fix the asymmetries and biases of the Uruguay Round. In addition, there is widespread agreement that the trade concerns of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) should not fall victim to the impasse between rich countries and emerging market nations. Developing countries have put forward a package of proposals that would allow the LDCs to safeguard development policy space while gaining the benefits of trade. Thus:

– The proposed LDC package, including Duty-Free Quota-Free access for LDCs, and a fair and immediate resolution to the demands of the cotton-producing countries, should be adopted whether or not a complete Doha package is finalized.

– Implementation Issues must be restored as the main focus for WTO for the years following the 8th Ministerial Conference. A real development agenda, which has been missing from recent negotiations at the WTO, would focus on reforming rules on intellectual property, services and goods, so that they are more helpful for development.

– The full range – not a limited set – of proposals to ensure Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) for developing countries should be prioritized as a key aspect of any forward negotiations.

– If LDCs pursue accession into the WTO, their entry must not be conditioned on market access demands, but should be able to accede on terms that allow them to use trade according to their development needs.

3. Access to Health and Affordable Medicines before Patent Monopolies

Advocates for access to health care and affordable medicines gained an important victory in 2001 through the adoption of the Doha Declaration on Public Health and the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. This declaration reaffirmed the flexibilities contained in the TRIPS agreement and its use to address the public health needs of WTO member states. However, the negotiations that followed the Declaration that were to have facilitated export of medicines under compulsory licensing for countries having insufficient or no manufacturing capabilities concluded without establishing a workable mechanism to translate the agreed rights into real access. Thus, public health has suffered due to the complex and stringent patent monopolies that are prioritized above ensuring access to medicine. Thus:

– Member states must review the August 30th decision of 2003 to waive Article 31 (f) of TRIPS Agreement and the subsequent decision to amend the TRIPS Agreement in 2005.

– Members should agree to a permanent moratorium on non-violation TRIPS complaints.

– Members should agree to ensure a permanent waiver of TRIPS obligations for LDCs without any strings attached.

4. WTO Rules Must Facilitate Financial Stability Rather than Financial Deregulation

The deregulation and liberalization rules of the WTO in the financial services sector helped set the stage for the debacle of the global financial crisis. Yet, while the G20, most governments and even the IMF have recognized the need for financial re-regulation in the wake of the financial crisis, the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) rules can actually hinder financial regulation efforts; and current proposals in the GATS negotiations would established additional limits on domestic regulation and extend the coverage of deregulation requirements. Immediate changes are needed to current GATS rules regarding financial services, and no further deregulation or liberalization of financial services should be undertaken within the WTO.

– Countries should not be pressured to take any additional commitments for liberalization of trade in financial services.

– Existing and proposed GATS rules should be reviewed in light of the financial crisis, and then clarified and/or modified in order to provide policy space for all countries to use macroprudential measures, such as capital controls and financial transaction taxes, as well as to implement other financial regulatory and prudential measures.

– It is not appropriate for the WTO to elaborate or adopt disciplines on domestic regulation in the accountancy sector agreed to before the financial crisis, or to adopt or elaborate any other disciplines on domestic regulation.

5. We Demand Trade Rules that Support Food Security and Sovereignty

Another global food crisis has again highlighted our broken system of trade in food, which exposes farmers to floods of imports when prices are too low (often due to unfair export subsidies in rich countries) while at the same time expanding the ranks of humans suffering from hunger when food prices spike. This volatility is a result of excessive speculation in the commodities markets, and global food rules – written largely to satisfy corporate agribusiness – that treat food as a product for corporate profit instead of a Human Right. It is time for a fundamental transformation of the food system, and the following changes to the WTO are essential for a global system that would ensure Food Sovereignty and Food Security to develop:

– Developing countries should have the right to raise tariffs and use other measures to protect farmers’ livelihoods, rural development, and food security. This ability, called the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) in the WTO, must be far more flexible than is reflected in current WTO proposals for it to be useful in achieving food security.

– Developing countries should be able to exempt products from any potential future tariff cuts as they deem necessary to protect farmers’ income, food security and rural development; the Special Products designation in the WTO must be expanded.

– Export subsidies should be disciplined, including so-called “Green Box” subsidies.

– Trade rules must be modified to facilitate proper regulation of commodities to prevent excessive speculation and volatility in the global markets.

– Special attention should be paid to limiting subsidies of agro-fuels which has diverted land away from food production and aggravated ecological degradation.

6. Protecting Biodiversity and the Banning the Patenting of Life

One of the important outcomes of the Doha declaration is to examine the relation of TRIPS agreement with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Ten years of deliberation has led to concrete proposals to amend the TRIPS agreement to prevent biopiracy.

– Members should amend the TRIPS agreement to incorporate the declaration of geographical origin, informed consent and evidence of benefit sharing.

– The mandatory review of the patenting of life obligation under article 27.3 (b) of the TRIPS agreement must be completed. The long pendency of the mandatory review cast doubts on the rules-based approach. In this regard, we reiterate the call for a ban on patenting of life forms as many developing countries have proposed.

7. The WTO Is Not the Venue to Establish Climate Change Policy

The United States and other countries are proposing to put climate change on the agenda of the WTO. This represents a grave danger, as WTO rules structurally favor increasing trade flows – a huge contributor to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change – over environmental sustainability. While several aspects of current WTO rules should be altered to allow more policy space for countries to protect the environment and pursue sustainable development policies, there are many other multilateral agencies which are far more appropriate venues for the discussion of and implementation of rules related to the global climate than the WTO.

– TRIPS rules should be altered to allow countries to negotiate flexibilities to the intellectual property regime, regarding technology transfer, in other multilateral venues.

– No new “climate change” agenda should be introduced at the WTO.

While there are many more changes that must be made to the global trading system, including a fundamental review and transformation of bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements, the above represent immediate changes that must be made within the WTO to ensure that countries maintain (or reclaim) sufficient policy space for sustainable development, and are able to address and resolve the global crises for the benefit of all.

We thus call on civil society organizations, trade unions, social movements, and anyone concerned about the impacts of the WTO on workers, farmers, women, the environment, democratic policymaking, and our future, to organize national pressure immediately on your Trade Minister and other national officials:

1. Organize educational and media events to raise public awareness of the negative domestic impacts of the WTO on farmers, workers, the environment, and others.

2. Demand a meeting (together with other concerned groups) with your Trade Minister to express your demand for changes to the existing WTO and the terms of the Doha Round Agenda – and let your government know that you are monitoring their activities in Geneva and will meet with them after the 8th Ministerial conference to inquire about their representation of your national interests there.

3. Ask Parliamentarians and other affected Ministries (Agriculture, Health, Labor, Central Bank and financial regulators, etc.) to put pressure on your Trade Minister and Head of State to represent your needs at the WTO.

4. Send a national letter, endorsed by a wide variety of social movements, unions and civil society organizations, to your government that reiterate the global campaign demands.

5. Contact the media and tell them about the negative impacts on the economy, workers, farmers, consumers, fisherfolk, women, climate change, and the environment of the WTO. You can submit a Letter to the Editor or an OpEd. OWINFS has available Talking Points and a comprehensive Editorial Board Memo that you can use as a resource, to develop one that is appropriate to your national media.

The global network Our World Is Not For Sale is working to mobilize international campaigns and support national campaigns worldwide. Please contact Deborah James at djames@cepr.net for more information, background materials, and action ideas. For more information on the WTO, please see www.ourworldisnotforsale.org.