WTO attacking the poor

July 26, 2008

The below is an abridged July 18 statement by Bolivian President Evo Morales on the current round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations. The full version, with notes, can be read at http://boliviarising.blogspot.com.

"We recognize the need for all our peoples to benefit from the increased opportunities and welfare gains that the multilateral trading system generates. The majority of WTO members are developing countries. We seek to place their needs and interests at the heart of the Work Programme adopted in this Declaration".

With these words, from the Doha World Trade Organization Ministerial Declaration, November 14, 2001, the WTO round of negotiations began seven years ago.

In reality, are economic development, the alleviation of poverty, the needs of all our peoples, the increased opportunities for developing countries at the centre of the current negotiations at the WTO?

If it were so, all 153 member countries and, in particular, the majority of developing countries should be the main actors in the WTO negotiations. But what we are seeing is that 35 countries are invited by the director-general to informal meetings so that they advance significantly in the negotiations and prepare the agreements of this WTO "Development Round".

The WTO negotiations have turned into a fight by developed countries to open markets in developing countries to favour their big companies.

The agricultural subsidies in the North, which mainly go to agricultural and food companies in the US and Europe, will not only continue but will actually increase. The developing countries will lower tariffs on their agricultural products while the real subsidies applied by the US or the EU to their agricultural products will not decline.

As for industrial products in the WTO negotiations, developing countries are being asked to cut their tariffs by 40% to 60% while developed countries will, on average, cut their tariffs by 25% to 33%.

In the negotiations, there is a push towards the liberalisation of new services sectors by countries when we should be definitely excluding basic services in education, health, water, energy and telecommunications from the text of the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services.

These services are human rights that cannot be objects of private commercial relations and of liberalisation rules that lead to privatisation.

The deregulation and privatisation of financial services are among the causes of the current global financial crisis. Further liberalisation of services will not bring about more development, but greater probabilities for a crisis and speculation on vital matters such as food.

The intellectual property regime established by the WTO has most of all benefited transnational corporations that monopolise patents, thus making medicines and other vital products more expensive, promoting the privatisation and commercialisation of life itself — as evidenced by the various patents on plants, animals and even human genes.

After seven years, the WTO round is out of date with the most important phenomena we are currently living: the food crisis, the energy crisis, climate change and the elimination of cultural diversity.

Studies by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation point out that with the current forces of agricultural production, it is possible to feed 12 billion human beings. However, there is a food crisis because production is not geared towards the well-being of humans but towards the market, speculation and profitability of the big producers and marketers of food.

To deal with the food crisis, it is necessary to strengthen family, peasant and community agriculture. Developing countries have to recover the right to regulate our imports and exports to guarantee our populations' food supply. We have to end consumerism, waste and luxuries.

In the poorest part of the planet, millions of human beings die of hunger every year. In the richest part of the planet, millions of dollars are spent to combat obesity.

Countries should prioritise the consumption of what we produce locally. A product that travels half around the world to reach its destiny can be cheaper than that produced domestically, but, if we take into account the environmental costs of transporting that merchandise, the energy consumption and the quantity of carbon emissions that it generates, then we can reach the conclusion that it is healthier for the planet and for humanity to prioritise the consumption of what is produced locally.

Capitalism wants to make us all uniform so that we turn into mere consumers. For the North there is only one development model — theirs. To destroy a culture, to threaten the identity of a people, is the greatest damage that can be done to humanity.

The respect and the peaceful and harmonic complementarity of the various cultures and economies is essential to save the planet.

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