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WTO: DOUBLE STANDARDS AND DECEIT

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NEW DELHI, Jan 1 2003 (IPS) - If it is to stop terrorising the weak and the powerless to pry open markets for rich corporations and rich countries, the World Trade Organisation must be reformed, writes Vandana Shiva, an author and international campaigner for women and the environment. In this article for IPS, Shiva writes that what is urgently needed to bring justice and fairness into international trade rules, protect the survival of Third World peasants, and defend the food rights of the poor is to lower production costs and prevent unfair competition from artificially cheap subsidised imports. While US and European subsidies have actually increased in the past year, countries like India have been forced to remove import restrictions and have seen domestic markets and prices collapse as artificially-cheap, heavily-subsidised products flood the market. Sustainable agriculture/organic farming along with import restrictions are the only guarantee for livelihood security and food security in the Third World, the author writes.

If it is to stop terrorising the weak and the powerless to pry open markets for rich corporations and countries, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) must be reformed. The WTO today is neither designed for nor capable of disciplining the powerful.

What is urgently needed to bring justice and fairness into international trade rules, protect the survival of Third World peasants, and defend the food rights of the poor is to lower production costs and prevent unfair competition from artificially cheap subsidised imports.

These are the issues that should top the priority list at the upcoming WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico (10û14 September 2003).

The Uruguay Round (1994) of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs was sold to the Third World on a single expectation — that the rich countries would reduce their subsidies, lower their tariffs, and create export opportunities for poor countries.

The Doha ministerial in November 2001 used the same lure, adding the threat of terrorism as an addition motivation. Stuart Harbinson, Chair of the General Council of WTO at the time, admitted:

”There is a certain amount of feeling that the events of September 11 were a bit of a threat to the world and to the established way of doing things in the world. And it was important for multilateral institutions, not just the WTO, to be seen operating successfully. So I think that put a bit of extra pressure on people to have a result.”

Clearly, the so-called ”Doha Round” was not a negotiation but a farce staged to make the WTO ”be seen as operating successfully”. It was an attempt to keep illusions alive, not to regulate trade. The Seattle failure had made this necessary.

The inability and unwillingness of the WTO to regulate the trade abuses of the powerful and rich is clearly demonstrated by the fact that US and European subsidies have actually increased since Doha. The Bush administration recently passed a farm act that increases US agricultural subsidies by 10 percent — to around USD 20 billion a year. In Europe, current subsidies will be maintained until 2013.

Meanwhile, countries like India have been forced to remove import restrictions (referred to as quantitative restrictions, or QRs) and have seen domestic markets and prices collapse as artificially-cheap, heavily-subsidised products flood the market. As a result of unfair trade legalised by the WTO, India’s agricultural imports have quadrupled, from USD 1.04 billion in 1995 to USD 4.16 billion in 2000.

While global trade benefiting northern agribusiness grows, Third World farmers are loosing their livelihoods. For example, the coffee trade has increased from USD 40 billion to USD 70 billion over the past few years. At the same time, coffee growers’ income has dropped from USD 9 billion to USD 5 billion.

Indian cotton farmers are losing their livelihoods as a result of both the dumping of heavily-subsidised Texas cotton and costly and unreliable seeds, like Monsanto’s genetically-engineered Bt. cotton. India’s inheritance from the WTO rules of trade liberalisation has come in the form of suicides of farmers and starvation deaths.

The double standards and distortions in the WTO are plain to see. That is why even the flimsy democratic base of negotiations in Geneva is being substituted by ”mini-ministerials” — in Sydney this past November and in Tokyo this February. These small secretive meetings are perfect for arm-twisting, threatening, and bribing, and any outcome they produce is an outrage against transparency and democracy.

As we move to Cancun, the issues of democracy, food, hunger, and farmers’ survival should top the agenda.

Sustainable agriculture/organic farming, together with QRs and anti-dumping and anti-trust laws against global corporations, is the only guarantee for livelihood and food security in the Third World.

Yet while QRs are being demanded by all farmers movements across the world, there is a concerted attempt to deflect attention from the issue, which would force a change in WTO rules, to issues which help reinforce the WTO.

After Seattle, the diversion from QRs was created with the ”market access” argument, according to which the WTO is necessary to force developed countries to open up their markets to Third World countries.

Now the argument has shifted to ”subsidies”: the WTO, it is now asserted, is needed to eliminate the rich countries’ subsidies. This is demonstrably false, for a number of reasons:

1. The current rules of the WTO have built in a ”peace” clause for the rich countries up to 2005 (Art. 13 of the Agreement on Agriculture).

2. The very categorisation of subsidies in the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) has designated most subsidies in the US and EU as ”green box” and ”blue box”, which are not considered ”trade distorting” and thus not actionable under the WTO.

3. Even while the built-in review of the AoA is under way — starting in 2001– the US has further increased its farm subsidies to USD 180 billion over the next few years.

4. The recent US decision on the textile agreement shows clearly that the US will not bend to the WTO when it goes against domestic lobbies — an attitude reinforced by the new military role of the US since 9/11. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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