||Issue No. 195||12 September 2003|
Coalition of the Swilling
Interview: Crowded Lives
Activists: Life With Brian
Industrial: National Focus
Unions: If These Walls Could Talk
Economics: Beating the Bastards
Media: Three Corners
History: The Brisbane Line
Trade: The Dumping Problem
Review: Frankie's Way
The Locker Room
WTO Trips on Cancun Hurdle
The democratic values espoused by the WTO, and by the USA and Europe, are being twisted beyond recognition by the rich minority, reports Workers Online’s man on the ground, Peter Murphy.
That should bring some grim satisfaction to the many people's movements and non-government organisations that have been campaigning against the neo-liberal trade agenda for the last 20 years.
The Australian government's position as the 'champion' of free trade in agricultural products has been marginalised by the emergence of the Group of 21 developing countries, who have proposed a program for sharp reform of agricultural trading policies in the rich countries and more moderate and supportive reforms for developing countries.
While Australia's extreme reform proposals have had no success for over a decade, the G21 has introduced a new dynamic into the WTO that holds out hope of some fair trade measures emerging for agriculture. While publicly cheering on the G21, Australia's delegation is privately predicting that it will soon split. This is clearly the preference of the US and the Europeans. Already reports from the Indian delegation are that US President George Bush has been telephoning individual heads of government from the G21.
Opening day protests and violence
The opening day protests both inside and outside the Convention Centre at Cancun have so far been proven accurate - the WTO is unfair, undemocratic, obsolete and anti-small farmers. The self-sacrifice of former Korean farm leader Lee Kyang-hae at the top of the barricade at the opening protest was met with sadness but also incomprehension by WTO Director-General Supachai Pritchpakdi.
This protest marched through down-town Cancun toward the Zona Hoteleria, with rank on rank of Mexican, other Latin American, US, European, African, Korean, and Filipino farmers and indigenous people expressing the call of the global farmer organisation Via Campesina, for the WTO to remove agriculture from its agenda. When it hit the barricades, the marchers broke through, with 200 Korean farmers in the front line. The momentum was broken by a rock barrage by provocateurs against the huge police and paramilitary force behind the barricades. There were shocking scenes of violence and then the self-sacrifice protest by Mr Lee.
Back at the opening ceremony, the Our World Is Not For Sale network mounted a silent then noisy protest against WTO officials. As a counter-point, the written statement by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and the opening speech by Mexican President Vincente Fox criticised the global trading system and the rich countries and challenged them to hear the voices of the poor, especially small farmers.
Since then protestors have challenged the terms of the August 30 WTO agreement on medicines for poor countries, the forcing of GM corn on Mexico, the huge US cotton subsidies that hurt African cotton growers, and to recognize Mr Lee's self-sacrifice death at the farmers' protest.
Rocks of power politics
September 11 is the first day of intense negotiations, and already the optimism of the WTO leaders and of the Group of 21 has hit the rocks of power politics and self-interest.
While the WTO immediately responded to the Group of 21 request of its proposal for agricultural reform to be given equal status to that of the Chairperson's draft, the European Union is adamantly opposing this view as a 'procedural mess'. The EU has now redefined the Doha commitment which states 'with a view to elimination of export subsidies' for agricultural products, to mean 'no elimination'. The WTO officials now say that 'informal meetings' are the way to get results - that is code for the now notorious 'Green Room' process of meetings by the riches countries, to which the developing countries have strongly objected.
The US failed to heed the call for help from the African cotton growers.
A group of 17 developing countries held a media conference to declare that there is no 'explicit consensus' to launch negotiations on the four 'Singapore issues' - investment, competition policy, government procurement, and trade facilitation - to indicate to the Negotiating Group that it is pointless to pursue this goal any further at Cancun. The 17 want these issues to be referred back to trade ambassadors based at the WTO Geneva office for further clarification.
Meanwhile the EU is adamant that these negotiations must be launched now. These issues are highly controversial, and really amount to a return of the notorious Multilateral Agreement on Investment of 1998 - a charter of rights for transnational corporations elevated above the rights of national governments.
Australia's Business Council has joined a Joint Business Charter of eleven countries launched at Cancun. The Charter calls of the Cancun meeting to move forward on agriculture and industrial trade liberalization, to start the 'Singapore issues' talks without prejudice on the eventual outcome, to make progress on special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries, and to renew commitment for more liberalisation in trade in services. The charter cuts across the North - South divide, and expresses the views of globalising capital.
Intense pressure will be placed on developing countries tonight and tomorrow to force an agreement that will boost global business confidence, and allow some kind of progress on agriculture, industrial and services trade.
However, this time the developing countries are more informed and united than ever before, and are challenging the established power of the US, Europe, Japan and Canada in the WTO. In turn, this is a real threat to the neo-liberal hegemony of the big transnational corporations from these countries.
The US and EU capacity to offer direct trade deals, and aid, and of the International Monetary Fund to deny credit, will be used to try to kick-start the flagging neo-liberal momentum. Big capital is seriously concerned at the low levels of growth in world trade of the last two years.
Whatever happens, the grassroots campaigns against the global corporate agenda are getting stronger and more capable of impacting governments. If an agreement is openly coerced at Cancun, it will seriously damage what legitimacy remains for the corporate claim that it is best place to order the global economy, and therefore global social relations and environmental conditions.
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