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Global civil society letter urges G20 to avoid WTO issue at Los Cabos meeting

I’ve written before about attempts by mostly rich countries to skirt difficult WTO discussions by moving their own trade and investment agenda forward in different venues. One of those venues is the G20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico this week. The Council of Canadians and Polaris Institute joined global civil society voices in urging G20 ministers “to reject discussing the further liberalization of trade in the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations,” since, “only a forum which includes all members, regardless of their economic power, can legitimately make decisions on major issues pertaining to the future [of those talks].”

I’ve included hyperlinks below (for more information on key points) that don’t exist in the original letter, which was sent to Prime Minister Steven Harper, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and International Trade Minister Ed Fast this morning. For example, there are links to the “new trade narrative” that WTO Director Pascal Lamy has been fostering, as well as the pushback by BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).

Admittedly higher up on the Harper agenda at the G20 will be the possible announcement of Canada’s entry into Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations, which reinforces the point of this letter about developed countries finding new ways to move their own agenda forward without considering how trade policy could work better for everyone.


June 17, 2012

Dear Representatives of the G20 Governments,

We are writing to urge you to reject discussing the further liberalization of trade in the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations, in the upcoming meeting of the G20 in Mexico.

First, the WTO negotiations should not be on the agenda at the G20, given that the G20 does not represent the much broader membership (155 members) of the WTO. Past efforts within the G20 to gain consensus on a new agenda for the WTO, such as at the G20 Trade Ministers’ meeting on 19-20 April, ended with serious disagreement even among the members of the G20, as voiced by India, Brazil, South Africa, and other G20 members at the WTO General Council meeting of 1-2 May. In addition, many WTO members who were not present at the G20 meeting voiced similar displeasure with the inclusion of the WTO on the G20 agenda at the same General Council session. The G20 does not have legitimacy to decide the future of global trade governance since only a forum which includes all members, regardless of their economic power, can legitimately make decisions on major issues pertaining to the future of WTO negotiations.

Second, the WTO negotiations should not be on the agenda at the G20, given that the proposals put forward by the G20, such as that of the “new trade narrative” on global supply chains, thus far evidence a clear attempt to use the forum to multi-lateralize an agenda at the WTO heavily favoring the interests of developed countries, and more particularly of powerful corporations based in developed countries, rather than the interests of sustainable and inclusive development. Any negotiations in the WTO should instead address the pressing agenda of fixing existing rules in order to provide governments with more policy tools with which to address the global food, jobs, and financial crises. Global civil society has put forward a positive agenda, WTO Turnaround: Food, Jobs, and Sustainable Development First!, which details the various specific changes in agricultural, tariff, and services regulation policies, among others, that should be the core agenda of future multilateral trade negotiations.

Third, any discussions on trade issues within the G20 should abandon the monitoring of alleged “protectionism,” which all too often serves as a thin veil for criticism of the policy space used by developing countries to deal with the global crises. Instead, they should focus on how the G20 can best ensure that a global economic recovery will ensure prosperity for all, including through trade and investment policies that prioritize decent job creation, food security, and global financial stability rather than just focusing on increasing trade and investment.

Fourth, given that economic governance organizations which are very heavily weighted towards the interests of developed countries, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, are provided with ample mechanisms for participation at the G20, we demand that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) be given a larger role in future meetings of the G20. A stronger role for UNCTAD within global economic fora such as the G20 would be an important first step towards ensuring a greater focus on the needs of the world’s people, rather than the narrow interests of the global elite.

Working together through the Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network, we demand international dialogue among governments, including through the G20, that promotes a positive, public interest agenda for sustainable development, job creation, true food security, and global financial stability.


Agribusiness Action Initiatives – Asia/Pacific
Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), Philippines
Alternative Information & Development Centre – South Africa
Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) – Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, and Sri Lanka
Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET)
Bharat Krishak Samaj (BKS) – India
Bia´lii, Asesoría e Investigación, A.C – Mexico
Citizens Trade Campaign – United States
Comisión Nacional de Enlace – Costa Rica
Council of Canadians
Fairwatch – Italy
Foro Ciudadano de Participación por la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos (FOCO) – Argentina
IDEALS, Philippines
Indonesia for Global Justice
National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS)
Norwegian Trade Campaign
Rede Brasileira Pela Integração dos Povos (REBRIP), Brazil
Rural Urban Peoples’ Linkages – RUPeL Philippines
Polaris Institute – Canada
Public Citizen – United States
Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI)
WEED – World Economy, Ecology & Development Association – Germany
Worldview – The Gambia