Drawing the lines in Bali: Global South must demand no less than development justice
Posted on 5 December 2013
BALI, Indonesia (December 4) — Lines have been drawn as world leaders gather in Bali for the World Trade Organization’s ninth summit. On one side are the world’s wealthiest countries, including the United States, the European Union, Australia, and Canada, among others. On the other side, resistant to the proposals of this powerful bloc, stands the rest of the world: from the so-called “emerging” to developing to the least developed economies.
Since the 1999 Battle in Seattle, WTO conferences have been lightning rods for protest by developing countries and by progressive Northern groups as well. Across the global South — in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia — the trade-related debates during the WTO talks translate into harsh gut-level realities especially for the hundreds of millions of poor and marginalized. Rules that allow a wealthy country, the United States for example, to subsidize its corporate agriculture while barring a developing country’s state from giving support to its small-scale farmers, take on real life and devastating impact. The effects of the WTO’s trade policy are evinced by high rates of poverty and hunger, which has grown worse over the course of the institution’s 18-year existence.
Perhaps Indian commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma put it best when he told the Times of India, "We can no longer allow the interests of our farmers to be compromised at the altar of mercantilist ambitions of the rich. The Bali ministerial meeting is an opportunity for the developing countries to stay united."
When the WTO was established in 1995, joining the cabal of other global institutions that have since framed international governance—the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—its domain was trade facilitation, defined by the WTO as the “simplification and harmonisation of international trade procedures.” In short, trade facilitation ensures easier movement of goods across national borders through "open," "non-discriminating," and "non-protectionist" mechanisms.
Given the devastating impact of WTO policies on the agriculture and industries of poor countries, it well deserves the distrust and even hostility with which it is viewed by many developing countries, civil society organizations (CSOs), and grassroots movements across the world. As the official talks begin in Bali, the call of thousands of protesters camped in a nearby sports arena remains “Junk the WTO!” underscoring just how problematic and unpopular the WTO’s mandate has become.
The Bali package
The centerpiece of the 9th WTO ministerial, popularly called the “Bali package,” is a bundle of proposals on three main issues: trade facilitation, agriculture, and the concerns of least developed countries (LDCs).
Essentially, the Bali package is a step backwards for the WTO. To explain that, we must look at the history of the institution — the WTO holds a ministerial conference every two years, and the time it takes to come to agreement on the items in its agenda is a round. The latest round began at Doha, Qatar in 2001 with the unveiling of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA).
The DDA—deceptively tagged as a “development round” since it was