After M1: Let's converge on Canberra to stop the WTO

Issue 

BY PETER BOYLE Picture

The big corporate powers and their governments want the ministerial summit of the World Trade Organisation, planned for Qatar in November, to undo what was won at Seattle by thousands of people in the street and by the delegations of 70 Third World countries, which, combined, torpedoed a new trade round.

At the recent People's Conference Against Globalisation, held in New Delhi from March 21-23, Walden Bello of the International Forum on Globalisation said that it must be a priority of the anti-corporate movement to stop the WTO launching a new round of trade talks at Qatar. Indian feminist Vandana Shiva has also argued forcefully that this is an urgent priority for the movement.

A new WTO round will further the economic and social war against the world's poorest, a war with millions of casualties (mostly children) each year.

The corporate agenda at Seattle and now Qatar is to increase the global corporations' unregulated access to world markets; break down all controls over investment; strengthen their monopoly over new technologies (through enforcement of intellectual property rights); and further the privatisation of public services like health, education, energy and water supplies.

A significant component of the imperialist governments' agenda in a new round would be to introduce into the WTO's coercive trade regime elements of the hated Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), which was shelved in 1998 following worldwide opposition.

Another objective is to force further privatisations of the service sector through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), formal negotiations on which have just begun.

It will be hard, if not impossible, to repeat Seattle-scale mobilisations in Qatar, a small and repressive oil principality in the Persian Gulf.

Worldwide wave

Nevertheless, our global movement can stop the new WTO round — but only if there is a massive wave of international mobilisations in the imperialist countries and in the Third World before the Qatar conference even opens.

The Australian government is one of several imperialist governments trying to push a new WTO round on a reluctant Third World. At the last APEC summit in November, Prime Minister John Howard announced that Australia would organise a bloc of 15 countries from the region in support of a new WTO round. The US and EU are also trying to pressure Third World governments to support a new WTO round.

If the Seattle victory is reversed in Qatar, the new global movement could face a quite demoralising defeat. But the demoralisation will be all the greater if we have not put up a strong global resistance to the new trade round.

The corporate globalisers know the significance of Qatar and they are working hard (but as quietly as possible) to prepare a consensus before the ministerial meeting.

The problem they face is that most Third World governments are just not convinced about a new trade round. And even in the richest countries, the WTO, like all the institutions of global corporate tyranny, are deeply discredited.

Mike Moore, the director-general of the WTO, is flying all over the globe arguing that everyone is a winner from the WTO trade liberalisation measures.

For instance, in one recent speech he claimed: "Doing away with all trade barriers would boost the world economy by nearly [US]$1.9 trillion: the equivalent of adding two more Chinas to the world economy."

But this sort of free trade propaganda doesn't fit with the facts.

The United Nations Development Program estimates that, under the WTO regime, in the period 1995 to 2004, the 48 least developed countries will actually be worse off by US$600 million a year, with sub-Saharan Africa worse off by US$1.2 billion.

The UNDP also says that 70% of the gains of the Uruguay Round (the trade round which gave birth to the WTO) will go to rich nations, with most of the rest going to a few large export-oriented underdeveloped countries.

If you look beyond the economic consequences, the picture gets worse.

In a March 20-22 conference in Berlin, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program highlighted the example of Uganda, where trade liberalisation in the form of industrial privatisation and tariff reduction on fishing technology has contributed to over-fishing of the Nile Perch in Lake Victoria.

"While export revenues increased, over-exploitation led to a 20% reduction in catches and degradation of the lake ecosystem, including negative impacts on water quality", Klaus Toepfer said.

There are many, many other examples.

But it doesn't end there. The imperialist countries and the corporate giants they serve want to bring in new devastating measures, like tighter "intellectual property rights". Already millions of people dying from AIDS in the Third World are being denied the access to cheaper medicines in the name of such corporate "intellectual property rights".

It is criminal — in fact, it is genocidal, as Vandana Shiva argued before a Women's Court hearing in South Africa on March 8: "We thought we had put slavery, holocausts and apartheid behind us — that humanity would never again allow dehumanising and violent systems to shape the rules by which we live and die. Yet globalisation is giving rise to new slavery, new holocausts, new apartheid. It is a war against nature, women, children and the poor. A war which is transforming every community and home into a war zone."

Another Seattle?

Now the corporate globalisers are worried. The US ambassador to the EU, for one, has warned World Trade Organisation members to strike an early deal on future trade liberalisation to avoid a repeat of the "Battle of Seattle".

Richard Morningstar said on March 20 that WTO members should agree on the scope of planned trade liberalisation talks before their ministerial meeting in Qatar in November if they hope to successfully launch a new round: "We can't have a repeat of Seattle. The basic agreement must be reached before we get to Qatar".

Morningstar's comments were echoed by Canada's top trade official, visiting Brussels to discuss prospects for launching a new round.

"We have to be careful that this is set up in such a way to ensure that we don't have another failure", Richard Wright said. "We need to narrow down differences for ministers to consider. In Seattle we had too long a list."

Meanwhile in Chiang Mai on March 27-28 the WTO quietly held a meeting to try to persuade Asian governments and NGOs to support a new trade round. Dozens of similar meetings are going on behind the scenes each week.

What do we have to counter this? We have the power of mobilisation. And so we have to seriously mobilise against the new WTO round they hope to seal up at Qatar in November. It is not enough for us to stage a few token protests while the Qatar ministerial takes place far away.

We must act now and aim our mobilisation at our own government, one of the most enthusiastic promoters of a new WTO round.

And now is a good time to act. The Howard government is hurting after the WA and Queensland elections. It knows that its corporate-first politics are deeply unpopular. So let's go for the jugular.

By doing so, we will also send a warning to a possible Kim Beazley Labor government. Without mass pressure, it is going to be as pro-corporate as Howard on all the main issues. Bomber Beazley hasn't changed his spots, his PR minders have just done a bit of a make-up job.

Canberra Convergence

I want to suggest we organise a national convergence on federal Parliament House in Canberra on September 11, 2001 to demand that the Australian government boycott the new WTO round.

A large convergence during parliament's spring sitting (probably the last sitting of this parliament) will place tremendous pressure on current and future governments. It will put this issue on the agenda for the coming federal elections.

Part of the Canberra Convergence could be a Sunday (September 9) conference for activist groups, which would be a much-needed national forum and exchange of views for the movement, Monday workshops and preparation for action, and, on the Tuesday, "S11 mark II": an encirclement or blockade of Parliament House.

Such a convergence could build on our current strengths. All the different parts of the movement have now had some common experience, at S11 and soon at M1 — if we bring those together, we could make a powerful statement.

Any comments, reactions, endorsements, improvements to this proposal are welcome.

[Peter Boyle is a member of the national executive of the Democratic Socialist Party.]

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