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Disarming the WTO

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Christa Wichterich, Nicola Bullard and Martin Khor on Fairer Rules in the World Trade Regime

[Nicola Bullard, trade expert of the NGO "Focus on the Global South" from Bangkok and Martin Khor, leader of the "Third World Network" with headquarters in Malaysia, participated in the conference of "Action Week for Global Justice" in Bonn, August 8-9, 2004. Both largely agree in their assessment of the global trade regime and action strategies and goals in the context of the next WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong. Nevertheless their views are different. This conversation is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.attac.at/1695.98.html.]

Christa Wichterich: The WTO is ten years old. You say there is no reason for celebration. Why?

Nicola Bullard: The WTO has not succeeded in producing a balance in trade structures between strong and weak countries and regulating free trade in the interest of developing countries. All our attempts to reform the WTO with this goal have proven to be "mission impossible." The WTO ministerial conferences were parameters for the state of health of the WTO; it went forwards and backwards, up and down. Happily the WTO derailed at the last ministerial conference in Cancun. However this did not last. The negotiations are running as they did ten years ago. All agreements are negotiated simultaneously. Abundant horse-trading occurs without possibilities for alighting from parts of agreements.

C.W.: In July 2004 a new framework for further negotiations was resolved in Geneva. Thus the WTO is back on track completely on a liberalization course.

N.B.: The Geneva July agreement is a coffin nail for the illusion that the global trading system can be made compatible with justice. After Cancun, the US and the EU tore asunder the unity of the developing countries according to the ancient divide-and-conquer
Principle and took the two strong economic powers India and Brazil into their boat. Making decisions at a ministerial conference behind closed doors and not being besieged by the media and civil society was also a trick. In this new "framework," the developing countries do not gain any of their desires. Instead the liberalization pressure on them is increased enormously.

C.W.: What strategies do you propose for the WTO ministerial conference in December 2005 in Hong Kong?

N.B." One counter-strategy could be exerting moral pressure on India to leave the alliance with the superpowers because consensus with them does not represent the interests of developing countries. On top of that, I think we must let the WTO derail again and again until the balance of power within the WTO shifts and the WTO altogether loses power. What we said in Cancun is also true for Hong Kong: no result is better than a bad result. A bad result in Hong Kong would continue the inequalities in world trade relations ad infinitum. We must search for other ways of defending the interests of developing countries than through the WTO.

C.W.: What would that look like?

N.B.: Speaking about the derailing of the WTO is not enough. We must popularize a radical criticism of the whole development model based on liberalization and export.

Most developing countries have not profited from that model and cannot escape the trap of export orientation, low-wage labor and poverty or the vicious circle of free trade and indebtedness. We must set other priorities, namely human rights, ecology, equality, justice and subordinate trade policy to these social goals.

C.W.: You describe the so-called development round of the WTO since the ministerial conference in Doha 2001 as an anti-development program. Why?

Martin Khor: The US and Europe have not fulfilled their promise to open their markets for products from developing countries. There are no schedules for the promised reduction of agricultural subsidies. There are no advances as to demanded concessions to poor countries in implementing WTO agreements and as to special treatment (SDT). Having equal rules for unequal countries injures the poor and only intensifies the inequality.

C.W.: Where do you see the sticking points of the WTO negotiations?

M.K.: The worst trick of the US, the EU and Japan is to massively pressure developing countries to lower their tariffs on industrial goods. This leads to an increase of cheap imports with which local producers cannot compete. When a country lowers its tariffs in the scope of the WTO, this is binding or unchangeable. We now already witness the collapse of local industries above all in Africa. If the tariffs are lowered even more, this will represent an industrial genocide.

C.W.: In December 2005 the next WTO ministerial conference will take place in Hong Kong. What are your central demands on the way to Hong Kong?

M.K.: Developing countries must be allowed to protect their markets through high tariffs both in the agricultural sector and in industries. The WTO has no right to force them to tariff reductions. The WTO must also end its pressure on poor countries to liberalize their services from the banking sector and communications to the water supply. All countries have a right to build their own industries and services. They need the freedom to decide when, where and how much they liberalize. In addition the campaign against patenting life must be revived. All countries have a right to an inexpensive supply of medicines.

C.W.: How can global action weeks and activities be effective in Germany?

M.K.: We no longer believe that the WTO draws up just trade rules. With the global campaign, we try to prevent worse things, to limit damage and fight against unjust WTO rules. Seattle and Cancun have shown that we can have influence. It was the success of civil society organizations and a series of governments that the Singapore themes are no longer on the agenda. We must democratize world- and EU-trade policy with other actions.

C.W.: How do you respond to the demand that the WTO must be derailed in Hong Kong?

M.K.: What does derailing mean? The developing countries need a good multilateral trading system to protect themselves. We fight for just rules that promote development. If we lose, this will be a catastrophe for the developing countries.

homepage: homepage: http://www.mbtranslations.com
address: address: http://www.globalexchange.org