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WTO Negotiations: They're a mess

WDM Press Release 3 December 1999 - for immediate release

WTO Negotiations: They're a mess

"WTO negotiations have been an excuse for arm twisting and bullying. The US and EU must stop trying to bounce developing countries into agreements that they bitterly oppose and are clearly not in their interests." said Barry Coates, Director of the World Development Movement, attending the negotiations in Seattle.

There was strong criticism of the US and WTO yesterday in statements issued by the Africa group and the Latin America/Caribbean group of countries. At a seminar organised by WDM and others, Sir Sridath Ramphal characterised the negotiations as "neo-colonialist"(1). He warned against any attempt to blame developing countries if they exercised their right not to sign a bad deal today. "Most participants will leave with a feeling of exclusion. If it fails, the blame must lie with the WTO and the USA."

Even the British Secretary of State, Stephen Byers joined in and said "it's a mess". EU Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy called the process "medieval". However, the EU has not been beyond arm twisting itself, especially in its attempts to get agreements on the "Singapore" issues of investment, competition and government procurement.

Corporate lobbies have been pushing hard for an investment agreement in the wake of the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment. The EU has been selling investment by saying it is not an 'MAI Mark II', but fails to point out that the objectives are almost identical - investment liberalisation and investor protection. Background papers from the EU and UK confirm that they still want provisions such as pre-establishment rights for foreign multinationals, but they are prepared to get them through successive negotiations. Developing countries' proposals that enforceable responsibilities for multinationals should be included have been ignored.

Investment should not be in the WTO. International rules on investment are needed, but not these ones and not in this forum (2). The strong stand by many developing countries against EU pressure is supported by the 1,450 civil society organisations from 90 countries that signed a joint statement against the new issues.

Developing countries have made coherent and persuasive proposals on implementation (3). It is an insult that their agenda for repair of unfair rules is being blocked by the industrialised countries. Today developing country governments must make up their minds over whether they will accept the deal on the table. A sensible decision may be to take more time in order to get a fairer deal and a less pressured process. Their citizens, particularly those who are poor and vulnerable, deserve nothing less.

Notes for Editors:

(1). The World Development Movement joined with the Africa Trade Network, South Centre, Focus on the Global South, Oxfam, Consumers International, Friends of the Earth International and the New Economics Foundation to organise the seminar. It was also addressed by the Hon. Clement Rohee, Minister for Foreign Affairs from Guyana, Yash Tandon of the Ghana delegation and Tetteh Hormeku of the Africa Trade Network.

It has been business as usual at the WTO. The US delegation of 200, including around 60 business "advisors" has been fighting with the EU delegation of 594. There have been tough meetings behind closed doors. The "Green Room" process, in which a few selected countries are invited through an undemocratic and unrepresentative process, has meant that texts are manipulated.

As the UK Secretary of State, Stephen Byers said yesterday, "working groups have not been allowed to work". Few of the informal meetings have involved the delegations of smaller developing countries, some of which have only one or two representatives. When developing countries are "consulted", they report explicit linkages between aid and trade negotiations. There are no ethics in trade negotiations - only power and self interest. Reform was promised after the Singapore Ministerial, but Sir Sridath Ramphal yesterday said that the these were the most unfair negotiations he had experienced in his 40 year career.

(2) There are UN agencies that have a mandate on international investment, notably the UN Conference on Trade and Investment, which has prepared criteria for developmentally-friendly investment, and could act as a secretariat for a balanced international agreement. WDM has proposed a new mechanism that would include rights for countries to pursue development policies and enforceable regulation to ensure multinationals abide by internationally agreed standards. All that is needed is the political will. It is time to reform the WTO, not to massively expand its mandate through an agreement on investment (which accounts for as much economic activity as all international trade).

(3) Most developing countries have called for future negotiations to "review, repair and reform" in the words of the Chair of the G-77 (the group of developing countries), including: * Implementation - to open up the deeply unfair agreements, such as anti-dumping, Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) and subsidies; and ensure that the rich nations live up to their commitments to reduce protectionism in agriculture and textiles. * Agriculture - an end to dumping of surpluses by heavily subsidized farmers from the North and recognition of the need for food security. * New Issues - no negotiations on investment, competition policy and government procurement, and no labour standards in the WTO.

WDM is an independent campaigning organisation which aims to change policies of governments, international agencies and companies in the North to stop exploitation of people in the Third World.

From: Barry Coates - Barry.Coates@WDM.ORG.UK

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