IBON International Update #14 – WTO
BALI, 3 December 2013 – The Ninth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) commenced today with trade ministers and officials from over 160 countries seeking a deal that would salvage the image of what was once the vanguard institution for globalization.
In his opening remarks, the WTO’s new director general, Roberto Azevedo of Brazil said that “the future of the WTO and the Multilateral Trading System is in the balance.” This was echoed by the Chair of the Ministerial Conference, Mr. Gita Wirjawan of Indonesia who said that an agreement in Bali would “send a strong message to the rest of the world that the multilateral trading system works; that the WTO remains the pre-eminent forum for negotiating new trade rules; and that it can deliver tremendous economic benefits to all its Members.”
These remarks underscore that the WTO has in fact been languishing for the last 12 years with no progress in the so-called Doha Development Agenda (DDA). The DDA is the latest round of trade negotiations under the WTO that was supposed to improve the trading prospects of developing countries. A breakthrough in Bali, according to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, would break the impasse in the DDA and save multilateralism itself.
Azevedo stressed that Bali must agree on a package consisting of three proposals. One is on “trade facilitation” that would supposedly make it cheaper and faster to move goods across borders through improvements to customs procedures and reductions in red tape. Another is a series of specific measures that strengthen special and differential treatment provisions in all WTO multilateral texts in favor of least-developed countries (LDCs). And the third pertains to a peace clause in the agreement on agriculture that would provide temporary protection for food security programs under which countries stockpile grain for distribution to the poor.
Azevedo further stressed that the Bali Package must be approved entirely or nothing is agreed.
Various civil society organizations belonging to the Our World is Not for Sale Network have criticized this Bali Package tabled for negotiations in this Ministerial for being a lopsided deal that offers no significant relief for the world’s hungry and impoverished.
The measures proposed for supporting LDCs are set in vague and non-binding language. Trade facilitation would ease the entry of imports into developing countries without enhancing the productive and exporting capacity of these countries. It would also be costly to implement and divert precious resources away from other possibly more pressing needs of the country such as ensuring universal access to health and education.
And the so-called “Peace Clause”, aside from being temporary, offers no shelter at all because developing countries implementing public stockpiling for food security may still be sued under the WTO’s Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. Moreover they have to fulfill onerous conditions in order to make use of this Peace Clause such as burdensome information disclosure requirements.
Meanwhile India is being depicted in the international media as the culprit for preventing consensus on the Bali Package when in fact the US, EU and other wealthy economies are the ones who have long been blocking progress in the Doha Round by refusing to reduce or eliminate the export subsidies and credits they provide their big domestic producers.
The Indonesian Peoples Alliance (IPA) expects that the Bali negotiations will just continue the WTO tradition of bullying and blackmailing by the major powers to keep “special and differential treatment” in their favor. Meanwhile WTO rules are used to penalize third world countries for adopting or implementing the same policy instruments that the developed countries utilized in their period of industrialization.
IPA has gathered hundreds of grassroots groups, national organizations and international networks from over 20 countries in the Peoples Global Camp in Bali to declare that it is time to Junk WTO.###