We say that no deal at the WTO is much better than a bad deal. The draft text released for the upcoming ministerial meeting of the WTO, if agreed in Hong Kong, will destroy the livelihoods of peasants, small farmers, landless and indigenous peoples, fisherfolk and workers the world over.
That is why the protests will begin on Sunday with a people’s march and rally and then include a host of meetings including such subjects as “Militarism and Neo-liberalism: a two-headed monster?”
The big march in Hong Kong last weekend was reported purely as a pro-democracy protest, but it also had an anti-WTO edge to it over issues of transparency and democracy. And it also blended with a march by migrant workers demanding their rights.
The current round of talks is called the Doha development round, but the draft ministerial text makes it clear that there is nothing developmental about this round. The text focuses on opening up developing countries’ markets, and sidelines the main demands of developing countries.
None of the proposed commitments address the bottom line — this deal will leave the world’s poorest countries, and the majority of WTO members, worse off.
The draft text continues to wrongly equate greater trade liberalisation with development, despite a growing consensus that the benefits have been wildly exaggerated.
The WTO has increased the imbalance between rich and poor countries.
The services text is even worse than the infamous General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gats). It is a milestone on the slippery slope to eventual mandatory and irreversible liberalisation of services.
Under Gats one country may request another country to open up several service sectors, but the requested government is also free to offer only those it is willing to open up, or even not to make any offers at all.
The Hong Kong text subverts this. It stipulates that the requested countries shall enter into negotiations. And, once this happens, all manner of pressure can be applied.
“Model agreements” will be set up to privatise and liberalise key sectors, and these will then be generalised.
WTO director-general Pascal Lamy tries to cover this up with the offer of “Aid for Trade”. This is a ploy to confuse and weaken the resistance of developing countries as the programme only goes towards building the capacity of developing countries to implement agreements that they were forced to accept in the first place.
The text on agriculture reflects the positions of exporting countries and the interests of their agribusiness. Despite longstanding demands to cut their direct and indirect export subsidies, the tabled proposals are “paper-cuts” that do not change the status quo in favour of developing countries.
Instead, what the European Union and the US have done is reinforce the imbalance by expanding the “Blue Box” (subsidies which are on hold and not for immediate removal), which will allow an additional US $5 billion of farm support for the US and the maintenance of the “Green Box” (permitted subsidies) which the European Commission will use for its agribusiness support.
The text also does not give any date for an end to export subsidies.
Such subsidies, which are largely provided to the biggest producers and their agribusiness as opposed to family farm based agriculture, will be allowed to continue unabated.
In return for this, developing countries are expected to fully open their markets through drastic tariff reduction and to cut their remaining, if any, domestic supports.
It is impossible to see how this agreement, which threatens to wipe out peasants and small farmers, can be classified as a “development round”.
The Non-Agricultural Market Access text has been strongly criticised for its bias towards developed countries as it glosses over the wide opposition from least developed and developing countries to the proposals.
The text is a threat to developing countries as the draconian formulas proposed threaten to wipe out their industries and remove any future policy space to determine their own development priorities.
Movements are as one in voicing their opposition to this threat to the world’s peoples. They are intensifying their struggle in order to prevent this deal from going through in the coming WTO ministerial in Hong Kong.