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Aid Agency Oxfam Calls On WTO To Slow Down

UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, says many rich countries had cut tariffs less than poor ones and aid-agency Oxfam is calling on the WTO to slow down, take stock and give all people a say. John Howard reports.

Kofi Annan, in a speech he was never able to give to the WTO Tuesday, said that the international body should not only promote freer trade, but fairness for the world's less developed countries.

"In the last great round of liberalisation, the developing countries cut their tariff's, but in absolute terms many of them still maintain high tariff barriers. But many rich countries had cut their tariff's less," he said.

Many of the poorer countries "feel they were taken for a ride," Annan said.

The UN secretary-general also complained industrialised countries were not happy enough just selling manufactured goods to each other, but "want only raw materials, not finished products" from the developing countries.

"As a result their average tariff's on the manufactured products they import from developing countries are now four times higher than the ones they impose on products that comes mainly from other industrialised countries," he said.

"It is hardly surprising if developing countries suspect that arguments for using trade policy to advance various causes are really yet another form of disguised protectionism," Mr Annan said.

"Transnational companies, which are the prime beneficiaries of economic liberalisation, must share some of the responsibility for dealing with its social and environmental consequences," he said.

Meanwhile, Oxfam believes that from the perspective of those in poverty constituting more than half the world citizens, the key actions are:

- slow down and take stock; - remove barriers to developing countries exports; - establish a truly level playing field; - improve special arrangements for least developed countries (LDC's) and vulnerable, small economies; - provide financial and technical assistance to LDC's; - no undermining of ethical consumer choice and consumer protection; - protection of labour rights; - intellectual property rights should not serve only the giant companies; - slow the pace and give all citizens the right to have their say;

Giving all citizens the right to have their say is now seen by many international NGO's as paramount.

Last year, opponents to globalisation were emboldened when 600 NGO's around the world joined forces to hinder closed-door negotiations by the world's richest 29 nations to establish a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI)

The movement that brought down the MAI has quickly mobilised itself again against the WTO, which they say is antidemocratic and destroys freedom and the environment.

Our politicians say they are in Seattle representing a democratically elected sovereign government but none of the GATT/WTO treaties have ever been ratified in, or by, our Parliament. Yet we are all bound by them - it's hardly democracy.

Moreover, many skeptics see the WTO as a global bureaucracy whose functionaries are unaccountable to those they govern and whose policies threaten individual rights, undermine community cohesion and wrests key decisions from local control.

They also see the WTO being able to shove local laws aside that control safety, pollution and other standards. Indeed, the WTO recently required America to accept Venezuelan oil despite its higher sulfur content.

The big story from Seatlle is not the WTO and its trade negotiations but the influence that citizens protests around the world exercise over one of the most powerful yet least unaccountable transnational organisations.

What is needed is not new shackles for world trade, but greater determination by government's to tackle social and political issues directly.

It may mean democratising the UN and strengthening it to a point where we will avoid the inevitable global catastrophe. Today, the notion of unlimited national sovereignty means international anarchy.

ends

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