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International trade union movement on WTO: Inequality overshadowing tenth round of Doha talks

WTO member states begin their eighth ministerial conference in the current round of global trade negotiations tomorrow in Geneva. The International Trade Union Confederation has released a statement on its priorities for the WTO, claiming that the deal on the table “will not help trade to drive economic recovery, employment creation and genuine economic development, and ultimately puts the multilateral trading system at risk.”

“Despite the criticisms expressed by millions of working women and men worldwide, there is still scant regard at the WTO for equitable growth, development or the creation of full, decent and productive employment based upon the respect of workers’ rights and other human rights,” the statement begins. “The worsening global financial and economic crisis has increased concern that trade liberalisation in a period of increasing unemployment and austerity will result in a deepening of the crisis and increase social hardship.”

The ITUC is “calling for an evaluation of the Doha round outcomes to assess its impact on providing decent work, improved living standards and diversifying the economies of developing countries,” according to a press release today. The global union movement rejects calls by some countries to bring the so-called Singapore (or “new”) issues of investment, competition policy and procurement back to the WTO table but instead to maintain a focus on making trade work for all countries.

“Without measuring the impact on developing countries and workers, it makes little sense to move forward with trade liberalization. The developmental mandate of the Doha agenda must be reaffirmed if the round is to be concluded,” says ITUC General Secretary Sharon Burrow.

Importantly on financial services, the ITUC says:

With regard to financial services, a review is needed of GATS rules so as to ensure they do not prohibit or otherwise impede various commonly recommended financial regulatory measures including capital controls and other capital management mechanisms, bans on risky financial services, size limits on banks and “firewalls” between banking and investment services. Should they be found to do so, WTO members should be granted the right to adjust their commitments immediately so as to prevent WTO rules from contributing to the recurrence of a financial crisis. Furthermore the role of commodity speculation in causing the volatile situation of world food prices and the food crisis with a particularly serious impact on LDCs, needs to be taken into account in the WTO’s negotiations on agriculture.

The ITUC statement makes specific recommendations in areas of Non-Agricultural Market Access (ex. tariffs on manufacturing and other non-agricultural sectors); Services and the GATS; Agriculture (ex. the need for flexibility, policy space, and special and differential treatment for developing countries); Development, Employment and Trade (assess how Doha will affect each), and; Implementation (making it easier for developing countries to participate in WTO procedures).

To read the ITUC statement, click here.