Africa Trade Network: Time to Dismantle WTO Inequality

STATEMENT ON PREPARATIONS FOR THE COMING WTO MEETING IN BALI

We, representatives of African trade unions, youth organisations, women’s groups, faith-based organisations and economic justice non-governmental organisations, meeting in Accra, Ghana, from 23-24 May, 2013, under the umbrella of the Africa Trade Network, to strategise for the forth-coming 9th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Bali, Indonesia, re-affirm our condemnation of corporate-led globalisation and attempts to reinforce and expand its inherent inequity across the globe.

Corporate-driven globalisation has, together with its ideology of neo-liberalism, lost its legitimacy.  Its promise of universal prosperity accruing from global liberalisation and deregulation of economic activity has failed to materialise.  Rather, extreme inequalities have grown, with high concentrations of vast wealth and power among a small and narrowing elite, side-by-side increasing and widespread poverty among the majority of the world’s peoples.

Instead of global economic stability and peace, neo-liberal globalisation has delivered the most far-reaching global financial and economic crises in decades.  And it has subverted global co-operation and collective effort among nations, deepened imbalance of power among them, and set them on a course of beggar-thy-neighbour competitiveness.

The financial institutions and other corporate behemoths whose practices have been at the source of the crises have not been brought to book.  On the contrary they have gained in even greater financial resources and concentration of power.  This has been at the expense of vast majorities of working people in all corners of the world, who have been thrown into deeper levels of poverty and deprivation.

In its agreements, structure and processes, the WTO has been part and parcel of the creation of these extreme inequalities and imbalances in global wealth and power; of the conflicts arising from them; and of the crises continually generated thereby.  This forms the context of the continued stagnation of the Doha negotiations.

However, consistent with their general attitude to the global crisis, the industrial countries of the North and the transnational corporate interests which drive them continue to resist a re-focus of attention on the fundamental issues behind Doha impasse; i.e. the inequitable outcomes and imbalances of power within the WTO agreements in general and the Doha work programme in particular.

Instead, they have become even more aggressive in the pursuit of their own agenda of trade liberalisation.  Through  launching “sub-negotiations” on selected issues -- and sometimes with self-selecting groups of countries, much against the democratic and multilateral claims of the organisation -- these rich countries are determined to create new mechanisms to circumvent developing country resistance, and to restore the (suspended) agenda of universal investment de-regulation to the fore of discussions in the WTO.

This is the essence of attempts at “plurilateral” agreement on services; the push to expand the membership of the existing agreement on government procurement to include a critical mass of countries and therefore generate pressure on others; the clamour for an enhanced International Technology Agreement (ITA); and the pressure to adopt an agreement on Trade Facilitation that would set binding rules on customs and shipping procedures according to the practices and interests of the advanced industrial countries.

In the meantime, developing country concerns to re-dress both the anti-developmental implications of key Doha proposals, as well as the developmental deficits in existing WTO agreements continue to be sidelined.  Several volumes of proposals put forward by these countries since 1999 to effect this redress remain thwarted.

The forthcoming 9 WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali constitutes a critical juncture in this continuing aggressive drive of corporate-driven globalisation and of the struggles against it.

In this context, the pressure by rich countries to conclude an agreement on trade facilitation in Bali must be rejected.  As conceived, and as being negotiated, such ‘trade facilitation’ goes beyond the declared need to simplify and speed up customs procedure. Rather this need is being subordinated to a framework which would allow transnational corporations to intervene in the powers of national governments to regulate customs procedure, and to shift the overall management of ports and related import-procedures into the hands of the few foreign transnational corporations which have risen in recent times to dominate the movement of goods across international borders.

In addition, the proposals will undermine revenue-generation options available to developing country governments arising from the international movement of goods, while forcing them to incur significant implementation, regulatory, human resource, and infrastructure costs which would further affect national budgets.  They will also restrict the overall space available to these governments to align international trade and customs in relation with their national developmental policies.

All this will reinforce and lock in place on-going processes of liberalisation which are leading to the erosion of labour rights, the collapse of jobs, increasing joblessness and poverty levels.

Above all, these proposals will divert attention from, and even undermine, real efforts to address the actual constraints that face African and other poorer countries in terms of the movement of goods and persons across borders -- including infrastructure, transport, and the mobilisation of finance to meet these needs.

Another development with far-reaching negative implication and consequence is the initiative being promoted by the countries of the west towards a Trade in International Services Agreement (TISA).  This initiative by a self- selected group of countries much against the collective norms of the WTO is an attempt to push through a thoroughgoing liberalisation and commercialisation of services beyond and against even the unacceptable framework of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS); against the wishes of most other members of the WTO;  and outside the knowledge of citizens and their parliaments and other representative institutions.

The so-called “Really Good Friends”, the self- selected group of countries behind this initiative, aim not only to conclude among themselves this free trade agreement that radically liberalises and deregulates services, but also to pressure others into joining the scheme.  Ultimately they intend to weaken the position of developing countries in the WTO-negotiations overall and in the services negotiations in particular.

In the light of the above, we reject the emerging agenda being promoted in the WTO, comprising both the so-called Bali Package, and the post-Bali Agenda. 

We demand that our countries refuse to adopt an agreement on Trade Facilitation at the Bali ministerial conference.

We also call upon all other countries to challenge the TISA initiative as having no place in WTO negotiations which are meant to involve all members equally.

We insist that the needs of developing countries for redressing the imbalances of the WTO cannot be   bargained for further expansion of corporate neo-liberalism.  To this end, we demand that the proposals put forward by developing countries must met in their own terms, before the Bali ministerial conference. They must not be part of any so-called Bali-package of bargain with an agreement on Trade Facilitation.  These legitimate demands and proposals include:

  • the duly motivated demand by Least Developed Country (LDC) members of the WTO for unconditional extension of the waiver of TRIPS implementation;
  • the proposal by developing countries to subsidise domestic food production in support of food security; and
  • long-standing proposals by African and other developing countries to reddress the imbalances in the existing WTO agreements, such as the Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) proposals; the package of policies for LDCs; and the implementation issues that are still outstanding.

Furthermore, we demand that any further and future work on the WTO should focus on redressing the inadequacies and imbalances of the WTO and on the roll-back of iniquitous agreements.

And we assert that the continued existence of the WTO can only be justified if it forms part of an agenda to construct a global trade regime founded on the fulfilment of the needs of peoples and on respect for the limits of the planet, rather than on rapacious calculations of corporate greed.

As civil society organisations we commit ourselves to continued struggle for the realisation of these demands, and call upon other organisations and citizens groups across Africa and in the global civil society movement to join us in this effort.

Accra, 24 May, 2013

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