The Guardian November 14, 2001


WTO: TNCs versus the people (Part 5)
A better world is possible

by Anna Pha

The fourth ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation is taking 
place as The Guardian goes to press. It is being held at Doha in 
Qatar from November 9-13. On November 9 a Global Union's Day of Action, 
organised by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) 
and its affiliates took place. The World Federation of Trade Unions and 
World Confederation of Labour asked their affiliates to join the 
protests.

The trade union actions are part of global protests against the WTO, 
organised by NGOs, trade unions, environmental, peasant and many other 
groups around the world.

Actions took place in Aotearoa (NZ), Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, 
Brazil, Canada, across Europe, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, 
Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, 
Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the United States, Australia and other 
countries.

"Regrettably the WTO, with the IMF and the World Bank, has perpetuated the 
subjugation of developing countries in the South of the world, through 
exclusion and sidelining their economies, while reinforcing the domination 
of the developed industrialised countries of the North", said a statement 
from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

"This has resulted in a huge gap in wealth distribution between the North 
and the South. The WTO has often forced rules on developing countries that 
have led to the destruction of their industries."

COSATU is using the actions to raise public awareness of the impact of 
globalisation on the economies and workers in developing countries and to 
link it with their campaign against the South African Government's 
privatisation drive.

A number of international networks and movements have been campaigning 
particularly hard on the internet leading up to the WTO meeting with 
information and activities.

A web site that has caused the WTO considerable angst and which is 
noteworthy for its honesty and transparency (something the WTO could aspire 
to) is (http://www.gatt.org).

Looking very much like the official WTO website, using the WTO's logo and 
pictures of WTO General Secretary Mike Moore, it speaks honestly about the 
WTO's policies and their outcomes.

It derisively sings the virtues of hunger and the benefits of the ever-
increasing power of the world's mightiest "citizens". It deplores the anti-
globalisation actions of protestors and says that the purpose of the WTO is 
to "broaden and enforce free trade".

One of the best known websites is the "Our World Is Not for Sale" site, 
which issued the "WTO: shrink or sink "declaration calling on Governments 
to take steps to limit the negative impacts of the WTO.

In Australia, the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, which 
involves over 50 unions and community groups, has sponsored a seminar, 
public rally and band night in Sydney this week.

Australian unions are organising a "Fair Trade not Free Trade" rally in 
Sydney as The Guardian goes to press, under the slogan of "Stop 
corporate globalisation". About 1000 delegates from the International 
Metalworkers' Federation World Congress are attending.

A Qatar solidarity week is also being organised in Western Australia.

In Canada there are caravans travelling around the country to join with 
actions being held nation-wide.

In France, one of the events is a festive funeral of the WTO: "Let's bury 
the WTO before it buries all of us!".

In Germany, "Our world is not for sale" actions took place in more than 20 
cities. Hundreds of thousands took part in actions in India. There were 
actions in 100 town squares all over Italy. In Japan, the trade union body 
RENGO organised street campaigns against poverty, oppression, inequality, 
child labour, terrorism and discrimination.

In India two former Prime Ministers and representatives of the two main 
communist parties were amongst the many speakers at a massive rally in New 
Delhi which was organised by the Indian People's Campaign against WTO.

The possibility for actions in Doha was severely restricted by its 
location, the very heavy "security" and restriction of peoples' rights.

But when the protestors speak of security they have other things in mind 
other than rows of police and troops, tear gas and baton charges.

By "economic security" they mean full employment and adequate wages. They 
call for the cancellation of Third World debt as a step towards the 
elimination of poverty in the least developed countries.

In calling for "political security" they want peoples' democratic rights 
and the sovereign rights of governments to take precedence over the 
"rights" of transnational corporations.

By "social security" they mean that governments, not markets, should be 
responsible for providing health, education, welfare and other essential 
services to the people, and that these also take primacy over the profits 
of transnational corporations.

By "ecological security" they mean that international agreements on the 
environment take precedence over WTO rules and the demands of corporations.

By "food security" they mean governments taking responsibility for the 
supply of quality food at fair prices.

By "peace security" they mean the settlement of international disputes 
through political and not military means. They want an end to the massive 
expenditure on weapons that is fuelling the international arms race and 
crippling government budgets.

But the official agenda and the two draft declarations prepared for the WTO 
meeting are only concerned to guarantee the profits and "rights" of the 
transnational corporations (TNCs).

The draft statements for consideration by the 142-member countries of the 
WTO were released less than 10 days before the beginning of the Doha 
meeting, in violation of the constitution of the WTO.

This gave government representatives little time to discuss its content 
with their governments or technical experts, let alone discuss it with 
other member countries.

The declarations conveyed a dishonest and deceptive impression that there 
was already agreement and that the views expressed in them were 
overwhelmingly supported by member countries.

The drafts were not the result of discussion and consensus and aroused much 
anger among Third World countries.

Last July, a meeting of the least developed countries ((49) LDCs) was held 
in Zanzibar to prepare a common position on the issues before the Doha 
meeting. But the views of these countries were ignored.

Speaking on their behalf at a WTO General Council meeting held on October 
31,Tanzanian Ambassador Ali Mchumo said: "... this is not an agreed text in 
any part at this stage ... Certainly we did not expect all our proposals to 
be accepted in toto ... but we did expect our major proposals or 
reservations to be reflected, even if they were to be put in square 
brackets or as separate options to be considered." (Note: It is normal 
practice to place different views or options in square brackets in such 
draft documents.)

Zambian Ambassador B M Bowa speaking for the African Group of (41) 
countries said it was: "not just that our participation has so far not 
yielded any material benefits, but indications are that they may never 
materialise, and will continue to be perpetually marginalised".

"Our goal has been to highlight some of the serious problems which LDCs are 
currently facing, with a view to finding workable solutions. However, as 
this text clearly shows, our priorities and needs continue to be largely 
ignored.

"In the text before us", said Mr Bowa, "what we have been referring to as 
the new issues, that is, trade and investment, trade and competition, 
transparency in government procurement, trade facilitation and market 
access for non-agricultural products are presented as items up for 
negotiation. But ... this does not reflect the wish of a significant 
proportion of the membership.

"Our position on this has been, and continues to be clear  we are simply 
not in a position to undertake new negotiations in these areas."

The final drafts that followed these discussions continued to ignore these 
and other Third World responses. It was a deceitful and cunning document, 
described by one diplomat as 75 per cent US and 25 per cent EU.

Its language is long-winded and indirect and is, no doubt, aimed to confuse 
and mislead.

Despite the repeated objections of Third World countries the drafts include 
new issues such as investment, competition policy, transparency in 
government procurement and trade facilitation. There is also a proposal for 
negotiations in the area of the environment.

There are great dangers for developing countries in all of these issues.

The proposals on investment place no obligations on foreign investors, but 
many obligations on the governments and people of the country where this 
investment is being carried out. In practice, serious constraints are 
imposed on government policy options for development in Third World 
countries.

It extends the concept of "multi-lateral trade relations" well beyond trade 
paving the way for the WTO to take control over the taxation, interest 
rates, currency, social policies and labour relations of independent 
countries. They would come under the thumb of the WTO, just as these issues 
have been removed from government control in European Union countries.

This would leave developing countries with few means to ensure job 
creation, industry development and the ability to meet social needs in 
areas such as health, education, drinking water, electricity and housing. 
They would have virtually no control over their own destiny.

Likewise, the inclusion of negotiations on competition policy raises 
serious dangers for governments of all countries, in particular Third World 
countries.

Again, the provisions in the drafts fail to place obligations on the 
transnational corporations. Only governments are subjected to rules and the 
loss of sovereignty.

Competition policy hinders the development of the public sector and leads 
to privatisation and domination of industry by foreign TNCs as it has 
already done in Australia.

There is strong opposition to the inclusion of so-called "transparency in 
government procurement and trade facilitation". The former would be a step 
allowing foreign TNCs to monopolise the area of government purchases.

The statements do nothing to prevent the dumping of subsidised products 
from developed countries into the markets of Third World countries.

The text fails to ban the patenting of life, biological and microbiological 
processes. It fails to give primacy to the health, lives and well being of 
people over the profits of pharmaceutical corporations.

The inclusion of environmental issues means in practice that the major 
developed countries would be able to use environmental reasons to restrict 
market access to their economies thereby discriminating against Third World 
countries.

All the propositions included in the statements before the meeting in Doha 
are those being pushed by the major developed countries. The many issues 
put forward by the Third World were not included in the declarations in any 
meaningful way.

The interests of Third World countries are buried in rhetoric such as the 
statements "we are committed to redressing the marginalisation of the least 
developed countries", "we recall the commitments", "we shall continue to 
work", "we strongly reaffirm our commitment", etc, etc. None of these 
statements are backed up by any concrete propositions. They are empty 
words, meaning nothing.

The concerns of the Third World Countries are reflected in the demands of 
the NGOs, trade unions and other groups protesting during the Doha meeting 
and before that at Seattle and at the many other protest actions against 
corporate globalisation.

Third World countries are under considerable pressure to accept a new round 
of negotiations on new issues. The pressure was stepped up in recent months 
as Third World countries persisted with their demand that the WTO implement 
commitments made by the developed countries in the past before they 
would agree to discussion of new issues.

These countries are being threatened with loss of aid, denial of IMF 
funding, imposition of high interest rates on debts and all manner of 
attempts to buy off their leaderships.

More recently there is an even more sinister threat hanging over their 
heads  military intervention.

In line with his "you are for us or against us" stand, US President Bush 
warned any countries thinking of bucking the US line that "there is a price 
to be paid, and it will be paid".

He was addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on November 10, at 
the same time as government representatives were debating the draft WTO 
declarations. In a very thinly veiled warning President Bush linked the 
question of promoting trade to anti-terrorism.

But, as the protestors say, "A better world is possible but not through the 
WTO and not by War".

For updates and further reading visit the Third World Network, TWO Watch or 
Indy Media websites:

http://www.twnside.org.sg
http://www.indymedia.org
http://www.twowatch.org

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