March 26, 2001
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on Monday accused the World Trade Organization (WTO) of using a seminar on environmental issues this week to promote its own "informal agenda" to muster Asian support for a new trade round. Representatives of several Asian so-called civil society groups urged the 23 governments attending the WTO seminar on trade and environment in Chiang Mai, 550 kilometres north of Bangkok, to avoid the organization's "arm twisting" efforts to garner Asian support for a third round of international negotiations on trade issues.
Some of the NGOs, who were on a list to attend a follow-up meeting on Thursday and Friday on the same issues hosted by the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), said they would boycott the seminar in protest. "I will not attend the meeting, because it is part of a process that will legitimize the use of civil society by multilateral organizations," said Walden Bello, a staunch anti-globalization spokesman who heads Focus on the Global South.
Bello claimed that although his name appeared as a participant at the ICTSD, which he said was "fronted by the WTO", he had never received an official invitation to the seminar. "Ever since Seattle, Prague and Washington there is now a new flavour of the month for multilateral organizations, and that is a necessity to get civil society on board," he said. "The idea is to bring in civil society to somehow legitimize these organizations."
Srisuwan Kuankachon, leader of the Foundation for Ecological Recovery, will also boycott the Chiang Mai meeting. "I will definitely not go," Srisuawan told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand (FCCT). Srisuwan, like many other civil society groups, urged the Thai government and other attending participants to fight against the WTO's push for new round of trade talks, expected to be launched at other fourth WTO ministerial meeting in Qatar in November.
"We have to achieve ecological sustainability, and we have no other choice but to shift back to a self-sufficient economy," argued Srisuwan, criticising the WTO theory that more world trade is a win-win situation for both the developed and developing countries.
Mike Moore, the head of the WTO, has promised that the next round will be a Development Round, focusing on the trade problems of developing countries, but many anti-globalization groups feel the industrialized nations will use any round to bring new issues, such as equal treatment for foreign investors, to the table.
"A new round is like a Pandora's box," said Bello. "Once you open it, all sorts of issues detrimental to the interest of peoples and countries may emerge," said Bello.
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