a keynote article in todays Irish Times
(Sep. 18), Peter Sutherland, a former Attorney General
and former director-general of the GATT and the WTO,
laments the failed ministerial conference in
Cancun. It was, he says, a setback for
all those who see the
trading system as one of
the principal vehicles for global growth and development.
wasn't supposed to be this way.
World Trade Organization, the international free trade
body whose ministerial talks collapsed last weekend
in Cancun, Mexico, was never intended to be hampered
by consideration of the concerns of the world's poor.
group of over 20 poor nations from the South, the
G22 as they call themselves, led by its largest and
most vital economies -- particularly Brazil, and including
India, Mexico, and new WTO member China -- (representing
over 80% of the worlds farmers) blocked the
U.S. and the EU from imposing yet another round of
trade agreements, this time regarding agricultural
products and investments, that would have helped cement
the widening economic imbalance between rich and poor.
International trade is worth $16 billion a day but
the 49 underdeveloping countries account for less
that half of 1% of that and even that miniscule
share has declined sharply over the last 20 years.
the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle, rich countries,
particularly the U.S., pretty much called the shots
in the WTO, a trade organization begun in 1994, largely
founded through U.S. efforts, and dedicated to bringing
NAFTA-style trade practices to the world. Large corporations
from the U.S., Europe, and Japan could take advantage
of cheap labour in the dominated countries, and sell
their products there by undercutting smaller indigenous
industries. Countries like the U.S. may lose jobs
but get lots of cheap stuff. Poor countries would
lose local jobs, and then compete with each other
in a race to the bottom to see who could offer global
corporations the lowest taxes, least environmental
or worker safety laws, and cheapest, most submissive
Seattle, protests that had been erupting for a decade
in countries like India and Indonesia astonished the
world by coming to a wealthy, comfortable city in
the North. Once the meetings started, a group of African
delegates took the protesters' message to the ministerial
talks themselves -- blocking destructive new agreements.
years ago, the next WTO ministerial meeting was held
in Doha - in the feudal oil kingdom of Qatar -- with
the entire country closed off to those annoying protesters.
Not much happened in the meetings themselves, as the
U.S. and E.U. were primarily concerned with making
sure an agreement, any agreement, could come out of
Qatar to convince the world that the WTO was still
a going concern. The promise there was that the following
two years would be a development round.
Small-minded obstructionism in Geneva put paid to
that pious wish. The farce around the recent confrontation
on essential medicines for the treatment of HIV/Aids
is an example of what development implies for the
year, in Cancun -- a posh island resort even more
closed off than usual to ordinary Mexicans -- the
substantive matters could be put off no longer. The
U.S. and E.U. wanted a new agricultural agreement
that would remove trade tariffs -- even as U.S. agribusiness,
for example, continue to receive massive farm subsidies
and "price supports" from the federal government
or European, Spanish, French and including Irish farmers
from Brussels. Large corporations now dominate American
agriculture, having all but extinguished the family
farm over the past 20 years; they have now also nearly
destroyed Mexican agriculture thanks to NAFTA, dumping
cheap corn and other commodities in the Mexican market
and driving the prices so low Mexican farmers cannot
sell their crops and make enough money to survive.
In Mexican states like Michoacan and Guerrero, whole
rural villages are abandoned, their former residents
gone either to the city or the States in a desperate
search for a livelihood. In Ghana, a country once
self-sufficient in poultry, providing a steady income
for 400,000 chicken farmers, the IMF recently pressurised
the Government to drop a proposed import tax on chickens.
As a result, in 2002 23,000 tonnes of frozen birds,
including from the 6 and the 26 Counties, invaded
the Accra supermarkets another dumping ground.
Chickens with guns as the protest song has
wonder, the Irish Minister of Agriculture who was
in Cancun, was determined, as he put it, to save Irish
jobs. During the same year 2002 Bush announced tariffs
of up to 30% on imported steel in a move to appease
Americas troubled steel industry. The IMF did
not intervene there.
is the future that the U.S. and Europe want for the
farms of the rest of the world. And in the wake of
Seattle and the rift that has never been closed since,
the refusal by the people of poor countries to go
along now threatens the very existence of the WTO.
The U.S., in particular, created the WTO; if the WTO
doesn't do what the U.S. wants, the WTO ceases to
be a "useful" institution.
Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, whose closing
speech as the Cancun talks disintegrated was tinged
with bitterness and whose career was supposed to have
been crowned with a deal, blasted the
stalemated organization and the structure that made
the Cancun rebellion possible. "The WTO remains
a medieval organization," Lamy said after the
talks broke off. Rep. Charles Stenholm (R-TX), one
of the architects of the combined U.S./E.U. agricultural
trade proposal, characterized the breakdown thus:
"The WTO resembled the United Nations."
And we all know what Americans and British think of
the United Nations, where the great masses of unwashed
poor countries have a vote just like the rich ones.
U.S. would much rather have international trade decided
on the model of the IMF or World Bank, which are more
or less run on the one dollar/one vote principle.
Lamy had it exactly backward -- medieval rule, at
least in Europe, was generally the absolute power
of kings. That's more the vision of what the E.U.
and U.S. wanted the WTO to be than what it has become.
If the G22 persists, it will change the economic
balance of the WTO writes Peter Sutherland.
A sad future for Peter!
week's breakdown constitutes a tremendous victory
for fair trade advocates, NGOs and many militants
thousands of whom -- inside and outside the meetings
-- had descended on Cancun to voice their opposition
to the agricultural agreement and other proposals
on foreign investment and competition being pushed
by the E.U. and Japan. During the last dramatic Sunday
of Cancun it became evident that no deal is much much
better than a bad deal.
the halls, Cancun was an even more dramatic victory
than Seattle had been. No new talks were scheduled,
and with their traditional dominance stymied, the
U.S. may turn its attention elsewhere and abandon
the WTO entirely as its vehicle for creating a global
economic structure that helps corporations rule the
process has already begun. Since the "disastrous"
Seattle meeting, both the Clinton and Bush Administrations
have been de-emphasizing the WTO, preferring to pursue
the same policies of dominance through bilateral or
multilateral regional agreements. The most important
of these is the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a
proposed pan-hemispheric free trade zone; the next
scheduled meeting to continue FTAA negotiations comes
in Miami next November.
Miami -- as in Cancun, Quebec, Seattle, and cities
and towns across the global South -- the drive by
labour, environmentalists, anti-poverty activists,
and many others to dismantle transnational corporate
control of the world's economies will continue. And
now, the momentum is all on the side of economic and
cannot be forgotten or glossed over, says Peter
it can be
turned into an opportunity. Couldnt agree
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