Third World NGOs Fight Against WTO New Round
Report on Actions in Developing Countries for the International Day of Action Against A Comprehensive New WTO Round
(Report compiled by Cecilia Oh of the Third World Network secretariat in Penang, based on communications Sent by various groups. This is only a partial listing of activities. Other groups that carried out or will carry out activities are invited to provide information of their actions. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax to 60-4-2264505).
NGOs and social movements in the Third World have been increasingly active in national, regional and international campaigning against the proposed new Round which developed countries plan to launch at the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Seattle.
NGOs in several Asian and African countries joined other groups in the North in an international day of action against a new WTO Round on 15 September.
On that day, civil society groups carried out various actions in their countries to pressure and lobby their governments to reject new round of WTO negotiations.
A joint NGO statement, endorsed by over 1200 NGOs from 77 countries, outlined their objection to the Millennium Round. The main point of the statement is catchily encapsulated in the campaign slogan: 'No New Round, Turnaround!"
It refers to the NGOs' call for a moratorium on new issues or further negotiations in the WTO.
Instead, the NGOs say there should be a comprehensive and in-depth review and assessment of the existing WTO agreements. The NGOs are critical of the results of the last round of negotiations in the WTO — the Uruguay Round — which also resulted in the establishment of the WTO.
According to the joint NGO Statement: "The Uruguay Round Agreements and the establishment of the WTO were proclaimed as a means of enhancing the creation of global wealth and prosperity and promoting the well-being of all people in all member states.
"In reality however, in the past five years the WTO has contributed to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich few; increasing poverty for the majority of the world's population; and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption."
The NGOs oppose further liberalisation negotiations, in particular those that will bring new areas under the WTO regime, such as investment, competition policy and government procurement. They want instead, a comprehensive review and assessment of the existing agreements to address the WTO's impact on marginalised communities, development, democracy, environment, health, human rights, labour rights and the rights of women and children.
NGOs in the South have been increasingly vocal and active in the international campaign against the new round. Actions were reported in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, South Korea, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
ACTIONS IN ASIA
In Indonesia, over 40 Indonesian NGOs (including consumer, Environmental and anti-poverty groups) have formed the Anti-Millennium Round Committee to campaign against a new Round in the WTO. They called on the government to reject the proposal for a new Round.
Sukma Violetta, a representative of the Committee said:
"We oppose the launch of the new round. The last Uruguay Round itself has raised problems in developing countries, such as the increase of poverty and environmental damage as consequences of the free trade acceleration ... We ask the government, both the current and the next administration, to reject the proposal of developed countries to launch the Millennium Round before reviewing the implementation of the Uruguay Round in the country."
The Committee also called for the establishment of a national consultation board to formulate a national agenda for the Seattle Ministerial.
The Anti-Millennium Round Committee includes groups like International Forum for Indonesian Development (INFID), the National Consortium for Indonesian Forest and Nature Preservation (Konphalindo), the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC), the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) and the Indonesian Pesticide Action Network (PAN Indonesia).
The NGOs will be lobbying the government and releasing Studies on the negative effects of liberalisation through Seminars and public debates in which they hope to involve the Ministries of Trade and Foreign Affairs.
In Malaysia, a group of 14 leading NGOs representing a wide cross section of civil society — lawyers, women, consumers, environmentalists, journalists, teachers, religious groups and fishermen — have got together to oppose new issues being introduced in a new WTO Round.
They issued a press statement in which they opposed "any effort to expand the powers of the WTO through a comprehensive round of trade liberalisation. We firmly believe that governments should instead review and rectify the deficiencies of the WTO system and regime itself."
In a joint letter to the Malaysian Trade Minister, Rafidah Aziz, the NGOs said: "We understand the Malaysian government has spoken up strongly against a new Round with new issues being thrown in. We firmly support the position taken by the Government in this regard. We urge your Ministry and the Malaysian Government to be firm and persist in the stand against a new Round at the Seattle Ministerial Conference."
According to S. M. Mohamed Idris, President of Consumers' Association of Penang (CAP), "It is the plan of the developed countries to use the device of the new Round to make three issues — investment, competition and government procurement the subject of talks for new Agreements in the WTO. We are opposed to this plan and call on our government not to accept this."
The 15 NGOs in the group included CAP, the Malaysian Bar Council, National Council of Women's Organisations (NCWO), the National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP), Friends of the Earth Malaysia, the Association of Malay Journalists, the Malaysian Youth Council, Malay Students Federation and the Islamic Youth Movement.
In Bangladesh, UBINIG (a policy research and training Group) on 15 Sept. sent a protest letter against the Proposed Millennium Round to all the national daily Newspapers. UBINIG will also be organising a meeting with members of political parties, business communities and social and environmental activists to discuss the issue on September 26.
According to Farida Akhter, Executive Director of UBINIG: "There is a lot of interest in this issue in Bangladesh. People want more information. So please share with us information about actions in other countries."
A number of Korean civil society groups, including the Korean Women Workers Association United (KWWAU) and the Policy and Information Centre for International Solidarity (PICIS), also joined in the international campaign. They report that demonstrations were held in front of the Parliament to show Korean groups' opposition to the WTO's proposed new Round.
ACTIONS IN AFRICA
In Africa, a regional meeting of NGOs under the umbrella of the African Trade Network met in early September. In a joint Statement, they urged African governments to reject the proposal of developed countries to launch the Millennium Round, in order to protect their national sovereignty and development options.
The African Trade Network, comprising over 20 NGOs and civil society groups from 10 African countries, called on their governments to reject the proposed new issues.
In a statement on 15 September, the Network's representatives in Ghana said:
"Africa countries have been in the lead in demanding that the WTO should review its existing rules which are harming or stand to harm their economies. Kenya has tabled a motion on behalf of the African group at the WTO, calling for a review of the agreement on intellectual property to stop the patenting of life, as well as the appropriation of the common knowledge systems of African countries by big pharmaceutical companies from the North. Others have called for review of the Agreement on Agriculture to empower peasant and small-scale farmers, and encourage the production of food for local consumption.
"Thus, the forthcoming Ministerial Conference of the WTO will be crucial for the ability of developing countries, and in particular African countries, to retain the national autonomy to pursue trade policies which are based on and reinforce their national capacity for production and trade. In the coming days and weeks, members of the ATN will be taking their views to the Conference of African Ministers of Trade and Industry to be held in Algiers, under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), as well as to the WTO Ministerial Conference, in Seattle."
In Ghana, several NGOs (including Third World Network Africa, the General Agricultural Workers Union, the Ghana Chapter of the Association of African Women in Research and Development and Friends of the Earth, Ghana) met with the Ghanaian Minister of Trade and Industry and Ministry officials for an hour and a half to present their views on the WTO and their opposition to new issues in the WTO and the New Round.
The Minister welcomed the civil society's initiative for the discussions and agreed with the importance of the Issues and views put forward by the groups. He affirmed Ghana's active commitment to the positions taken by the African group in the WTO and the G77. He underlined the lack of capacity of African countries to participate meaningfully in the negotiations. Both sides agreed on the usefulness of continuing the dialogue.
The Ghana groups also held a press conference attended by 30 journalists. Reports were broadcast on the night news bulletins of the two main TV stations and the wire of Ghana News Agency.
The Ghana groups informed the journalists on the importance of the international day of action against the WTO Round especially because of the need to prevent the developed countries from giving new powers to the WTO over national policies on investment, competition and government procurement. "The effect will be to prise open developing country markets for the big companies of the West at the expense of national and local enterprises in developing countries and of the needs of the people," said the groups in a statement to the press.
"We of African civil society call our governments in Africa and other Third World countries to reject the new issues being proposed so that our national sovereignty and development options can be protected, and to demand a review and reform of the WTO rules and system. We also call on all civil society organisations to reinforce their struggles on these issues."
In an hour of discussion, most journalists who spoke were Outraged with the proposals for new issues and were concerned that the government would be able to defend the country's interests. They wanted to know what the government was doing. The groups reported on their meeting with the Minister earlier in the day.
In Zimbabwe, an anti-WTO day of activities was held in Harare. At a public meeting, three representatives of civil society spoke on the dangers of a new Round. A keynote address was given by the Zimbabwean Minister of Trade. In a significant move, the Minister spoke about the proposals for the introduction of new issues in the WTO and voiced his opposition against a new round in the WTO. The meeting was covered by TV and radio.
In Gambia, ActionAid, a development NGO, issued a press release Calling on the government and all NGOs in Gambia to support the international NGO campaign for "No New Round." The Imbalances in the Agriculture Agreement and the need for national governments to support food security policies and the need to support the Africa Group's position on TRIPS were also emphasised in the press release.
The press release was published in the daily newspapers and aired on major radio and TV stations. The statement was also officially sent to the Department of Trade.