The WTO 6th Ministerial: People Power vs. Corporate Power

First World TNCs are also among the most active in lobbying heavily for the elimination of tariffs in manufactured goods. As a United Nations report on the NAMA talks in the WTO points out, “the most obvious objective of governments in these negotiations is to create improved market access opportunities for their exporters.”

But the reality is that many Third World industries remain at the simple processing/assembly stage. They are simple processors of raw materials or subcontractors of foreign corporations who assemble semi-processed inputs imported from other TNC subsidiaries.

Exposing these nascent industries to an onslaught of finished imported products resulting from liberalization would kill them or force them deeper into dependence on foreign corporate interests.

It should also be noted that the scope of NAMA also extends to fish and fish products, thus also threatening to affect the livelihood of fisherfolk in poor countries.

Singapore Issues

The Singapore Issues refer to four working groups set up during the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1996 in Singapore, which consist of investment protection, competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation. Most developing countries were unconvinced of the necessity of negotiating multilateral rules on these issues, which they see as being of primary interest to developed countries.

On investments, for example, the EU is pushing for the inclusion in the WTO agreements of new trade rules that would provide foreign investors new rights to enter countries more easily and operate more freely. On competition policy, the EU is also advocating a new agreement that would restrict domestic laws or practices in developing countries that favor local firms, on the ground that they are inconsistent with free competition.

On government procurement, the U.S. wants an agreement to liberalize procurement to give their companies the right to have a large share of the lucrative business of providing supplies to and winning contracts from the public sector in developing countries. On trade facilitation, the U.S. and EU are demanding the removal of other hinderances to trade such as bureaucratic processes and red tape.

Avoiding “Failure”

With both developed and developing countries still widely divergent in their views, it seems clear that the Hong Kong ministerial may once again end in a deadlock. Thus, the WTO is scrambling to try and save Hong Kong from being termed a “failure”.

At a “super Green Room” meeting held early November attended by Ministers, and/or officials and Ambassadors of 28 delegations, participants significantly scaled down their expectations of the outcome of the Hong Kong ministerial. This scaling back of goals represents a setback in the timetable for completing the negotiations by end-2006. In September, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy had set the target that two-thirds of the Doha round agenda should be completed in Hong Kong.

This was generally understood to mean that full modalities (negotiating frameworks including approaches, formulae and numbers) for agriculture and NAMA would be agreed upon, and clear progress attained in other areas such as services, special and differential treatment for developing countries, implementation issues, trade facilitation and intellectual property.

With Hong Kong expected to miss this goal, there is now expectation that another ministerial would likely be held in early 2006 to finish what could not be completed in December.

Unrest over the WTO

It is clear that trade liberalization has not benefited the world’s poorest people, and in fact, has even driven many of them deeper into poverty. This is why there is growing widespread unrest against the WTO.

The multilateral trade body has already seen two dramatic upheavals in Seattle and Cancun, with the strong possibility of a third this December in Hong Kong. These breakdowns represent real victories for the people’s movements that have mobilized against WTO-mandated trade liberalization to assert their countries’ rights to economic sovereignty and genuine development.

People’s movements have succeeded in influencing public opinion against liberalization under the WTO by exposing the skewed nature of the trade negotiations, which blatantly favor the rich countries. They have also helped strengthen the opposition of Third World governments to being railroaded into making a deal, contributing to the ministerials’ breakdowns.

But a third collapse in Hong Kong would not represent a decisive people’s victory against corporate-led globalization. Even if trade talks broke down, the corporations would still maintain their immense economic power and their stranglehold over the world economy. Only constant vigilance and a continued struggle by people’s groups would reverse the spread of neoliberal globalization and uphold the economic sovereignty of the world’s developing countries. IBON Features/Posted by Bulatlat

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