Global Policy Forum

Statement on the Seventh WTO Ministerial Meeting


December 2, 2009

Statement on the Seventh WTO Ministerial Meeting
2 December 2009 
Reference: Mr. Sonny Africa (No Deal! co-convener / IBON research head)

Today is the last day of the World Trade Organization (WTO) 7th Ministerial Meeting in Geneva. The rhetoric is that governments are out to revive world trade to drag the global economy out of recession and put it on the road to recovery and development. The reality is that the onset of the global crisis has pushed the WTO and the governments of big powers dominating this to try to regroup and reposition the institution to further advance the 'free market' liberalization agenda.

The global crisis has made this more urgent for them. The 7th Ministerial takes place amid the changed economic conditions of global capitalism and the end of the most debt- and speculative capital-driven episode in its history. Fictitious capital will be moderated, at least for a while, causing consumption, business investment and foreign trade to be sluggish.

The challenge for social movements and progressive governments remains to resist any renewed economic aggression and to press for an international economic order that enables the implementation of progressive nationalist development agenda.

The big powers- especially the United States (US), European Union (EU) and Japan that together account for some two-thirds of the global economy- are trying to revitalize the WTO and further open up the underdeveloped countries to boost their corporations' profits. They seek to drive down their expenses by getting cheap labor and raw materials, want to break into and dominate domestic markets, and are out to recycle their surplus capital at usurious rates and with heavy conditions. But they will have to overcome the inertia caused by the WTO's contradictions.

The WTO has been limping for a decade now especially since the 'Battle of Seattle' during the 3rd Ministerial in November 1999. The Doha Development Round was launched during the 4th Ministerial in November 2001 and after nine years has just been a series of announced target completion dates being set and then reset one after the other. In fact, the 7th Ministerial in Geneva has not even been declared as a negotiating session. A major factor is that the big powers are unwilling to concede their respective domestic protections and support such as for agriculture, which has placed the US and EU in a dispute. Also important is how anti-globalization struggles have surged as a result of the destruction wrought on the livelihoods and welfare of billions of people around the world.

While compelling the big powers to reach a deal further opening up the underdeveloped economies, the global crisis may have actually made this more difficult. The advanced capitalist countries easily resorted to massive outright state intervention, protection and support. Brazenly contrary to decades of free market rhetoric, the US, EU and Japan have together undertaken trillions of dollars worth of bail-outs, subsidies and trade barriers in the past year. Thus it is unlikely that they would agree to a WTO deal now when it does not allow them to openly or covertly subvert the free market as they see fit. At the same time they are aggressively pursuing "WTO+" free trade agreements (FTAs) that cover less countries but extract even deeper liberalization commitments.

The global food, energy and financial crises since last year also underscore the failures of globalization and the need for underdeveloped countries to be able to implement progressive nationalist policies. It is also possible that the domestic exporter and financial interests in the backward countries that have long supported the WTO may be facing a relative decline in their economic fortunes and political power. This creates the potential for some shift towards more nationalist and domestically-oriented interests.

None of this however is any reason to be complacent. Indeed, these are opportunities to redouble efforts in the struggle against the WTO which still remains the most ambitious and potentially far-reaching instrument of imperialist and corporate globalization. The WTO's agreements on agriculture, fisheries, industrial goods, services, intellectual property rights and others are expansive. They are not just about trade but cover investments, labor, knowledge and virtually every aspect of economic life.

The so-called Doha Development Round cannot be allowed to reach any liberalizing agreement whether in the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). These would only restore and increase the destructive momentum of free market policies of globalization.

Governments of underdeveloped countries are challenged to assert sovereignty and the aspirations of their peoples for real development. Applied tariff rates for instance are generally far below even WTO-bound rates. These should be immediately increased to the maximum allowed, as appropriate and necessary, as a prelude to breaching entirely the anti-developmental WTO bound rates. This could also serve as the signal for eventually de-legitimizing and dismantling the WTO.

It is clearer than ever that the WTO is not and can never be about development as long as the free market, liberalization and corporate profits are at the core of its agenda. The big powers that undemocratically monopolize the talks are clearly not going to give any real concessions for underdeveloped countries on Special Products (SP) and Special Safeguard Mechanisms (SSM) in the AoA, or on industrial and fisheries products in NAMA. At the same time they are relentless in trying to expand into services even in such vital domestic sectors as education, health and finance. Freer trade and investment will worsen the global crisis of underdevelopment, not ease it.

NO DEAL! opposes the WTO's Doha Round of negotiations and its expanded liberalizing agenda, and stands for underdeveloped countries being able to implement progressive nationalist development policies. These are needed by the people to deal with their overlapping crises of underdevelopment, food insufficiency, and climate disaster.


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