International trade can play a major role in the promotion of economic development and the alleviation of poverty. We recognize the need for all our peoples to benefit from the increased opportunities and welfare gains that the multilateral trading system generates. The majority of WTO members are developing countries. We seek to place their needs and interests at the heart of the Work Programme adopted in this Declaration. – DOHA World Trade Organization Ministerial 2001: Ministerial Declaration
With these words, a round of negotiations began at the WTO seven years ago. Were economic development, the alleviation of poverty, the necessities of all our people and an increase in opportunities for developing countries really at the heart of the ongoing negotiations at the WTO?
The first thing I must say is that were it so, the 153 member countries and above all, the great majority of developing countries should have been the main players in the WTO negotiations. But what we’re seeing is that a handful of 35 countries are invited by the Director General to informal meetings in order to substantially advance in the negotiations and prepare the agreements for this “Development Round” of the WTO.
The WTO negotiations have become a fight by the developed countries to open the markets of developing countries in favor of their big businesses.
The North’s agricultural subsidies that mainly go to the hands of U.S. and European agriculture conglomerates will not only continue, but will increase, as shown by the Agriculture Law or the “2008 Farm Bill” (1) of the United States. The developing countries will lower tariffs on their agriculture products while the actual (2) subsidies applied by the U.S .or E.U. to their agricultural products will not be diminished.
On the industrial product level, the WTO negotiations seek to achieve tariff reductions of between 40% and 60% by developing countries while the developed countries will reduce their tariffs by an average of between 25% and 33%.
For countries such as Bolivia, the erosion of preferential tariffs through generalized tariff reduction will have negative effects on the competitiveness of our exports.
The recognition of asymmetries, and the implementation of special treatment as well as real and effective differentiation to favor developing countries is limited and blocked by the developed countries.
There is a push in the negotiations for countries to liberalize new service sectors, when what must be done is definitively exclude the basic services of education, health, water, energy and telecommunications from the text of the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services. These services are human rights that cannot be objects of private enterprise and the rules of liberalization that accompany privatization.
The deregulation and privatization of financial services, among others, is the cause of the present world financial crisis. Greater liberalization of services will not bring greater development, but greater possibilities for crisis and speculation in vital areas such as the food supply.
The intellectual property regimen established by the WTO has benefited the transnationals above all, with their monopolization of patents, price increases for medicines and other essential products, giving incentive to the privatization and merchandising of life itself, as proven in the various patents for plants, animals and even human genes.
The poorest countries are the main losers. The economic projections for a potential WTO agreement, even according to the World Bank (3) indicate that the accumulated costs through job losses, restrictions on the definition of national policies, and the loss of customs revenue will be greater than the “benefits” from the “Development Round.”
After seven years, the WTO round is anchored in the past and removed from the most important phenomena we’re experiencing: the food crisis, the energy crisis, climate change and the elimination of cultural diversity. The world is being made to believe that an accord is needed to resolve a worldwide agenda and this accord does not represent that reality. Its bases are inadequate for resisting this new world agenda.
Studies by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization indicate that with current agricultural production forces, it’s possible to feed 12 billion human beings, that is, almost double the current world population. However, there’s a food crisis because food is not being produced for the well-being of mankind, but for the market, for speculation, and the profitability of the large food producers and marketers. To tackle the food crisis, it’s necessary to strengthen family, rural and community farming. The developing countries must recover the right to regulate imports and exports in order to guarantee the feeding of our people.
We have to do away with consumerism, waste and luxury. In the poorest parts of the planet, millions of human beings die of hunger every year. In the richest part of the planet, millions of dollars are spent fighting obesity. We consume too much, waste natural resources, and produce trash that contaminates Mother Earth.
Countries should prioritize the consumption of what we produce locally. A product that travels half the world to arrive at its destination can be cheaper than one produced in-country, but if we take into account the environmental costs for transporting said item, the consumption of energy and the quantity of carbon emissions generated, we can reach the conclusion that it’s healthier for the planet and humanity to consume what is locally produced.
Foreign trade should be a complement to local production. Under no circumstances should we privilege the external market at the expense of national production.
Capitalism wants to make everyone uniform, in order to turn us into simple consumers. For the North, there’s only one development model; its own. The only models at the economic level come accompanied by generalized acculturation processes, in order to impose only one culture, only one style, only one way of thinking and seeing things. The destruction of culture, an attempt on the identity of the people, is the most serious damage that can be inflicted on humanity.
Respect and the peaceful and harmonious complement of diverse cultures and economies is essential for saving the planet, humanity and life.
So that this round of negotiations might truly be about development, anchored in humanity’s present and future, they should:
- Guarantee the participation of developing countries in all WTO meetings, putting an end to exclusive
“Green Room” meetings. (5)
- Implement truly asymmetrical negotiations in favor of developing countries, in which developed countries grant effective concessions.
- Respect the interests of developing countries, without limiting their capacity to define and implement national policies at the agricultural, industrial and service levels.
- Effectively reduce protectionist measures and subsidies by the developed countries. (6)
- Assure developing countries the right to protect their nascent industries for whatever period necessary, in the same way that the developed countries did in the past.
- Guarantee the right of developing countries to regulate and define their policies regarding services, expressly excluding basic services from the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services.
- Limit the monopolies of large businesses over intellectual property, promote the transference of technology and prohibit the patenting of any kind of life.
- Guarantee countries’ food sovereignty, eliminating any kind of limitation on the capacity of states to regulate the export and import of food.
- Take measures that would contribute to the limitation of consumerism, the waste of natural resources, the elimination of greenhouse gases and the generation of trash that harms Mother Earth.
In the 21st century, a “Development Round” cannot be about “Free Trade;” rather it must promote trade that contributes to balance between countries, regions and Mother Nature, establishing indicators to assess and correct trade regulations for sustainable development.
Governments have an enormous responsibility to their people. Agreements such as those from the WTO must be widely known and discussed by all citizens, not just ministers, businessmen and “experts.” The people of the world must stop being passive victims of these negotiations; we must turn ourselves into protagonists of our present and future.
Evo Morales Ayma, President of Bolivia
(1) The “2008 Farm Bill” was approved on May 22 by the United States Congress. It authorizes expenditures which include agricultural subsidies of up to $307 billion dollars over 5 years. Of this, approximately $208 billion dollars may be spent on food programs.
(2) The current text on agriculture proposes lowering the U.S. subsidies to a range of between $13 and $16.4 billion dollars annually. However, the real subsidies that are presently applied by the U.S. are approximately $7 billion dollars annually. For its part in the negotiations, the European Union is offering the reform it made in 2003 to its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), without proposing further openings.
(3) The developing countries have little to gain in the Doha Round: the projected earnings would be 0.2% for these countries, the reduction in worldwide poverty would be 2.5 million (less than 1% of the world’s poor) and the losses through uncollected tariffs would be at least $63 billion dollars. (Anderson, Martin, and van der Mensbrugghe, “Market and Welfare Implications of Doha Reform Scenarios,” in Agricultural Trade Reform and the Doha Development Agenda, Anderson and Martin, “World Bank/Back to the Drawing Board: No Basis for Concluding the Doha Round of Negotiations” by Kevin P. Gallagher and Timothy A. Wise, RIS Policy Brief #36.
(4) This regulation should include the right to impose taxes on exports, lower tariffs to favor imports, prohibit exports, subsidize local production and establish pricelists, to ensure that every measure that corresponds to the reality of each country would better serve to guarantee the feeding of the people.
(5) “Green Room meeting” or “Meetings in the Green Room,” is the name of the informal WTO negotiation meetings in which 35 countries chosen by the Director General participate.
(6) A real cut in U.S. subsidies ought to be something less than $7 billion dollars a year.
Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.