APRN – Push People’s Alternatives to WTO

Draft Statement of the APRN Public Forum on the People’s Trade Agenda
(December 4, 2013)

Until today, the WTO remains as one of the most important mechanisms of the global monopoly capital in advancing neoliberal trade. After almost two decades since its establishment, the WTO’s legacy is the plunder of the world’s resources by rich countries and their corporations through unequal trade agreements that enabled them to capture the markets of poor countries, access cheap raw materials and exploit neo-colonial labour. Poor countries were made to lower or completely remove protective barriers such as tariffs, import bans, quotas, and other restrictions particularly on agriculture, services, and industrial goods. While hammering for the further opening of economies, developed countries fiercely protected their own through pushing for trade agreements on intellectual property and phytosanitary measures and also by implementing high domestic subsidies for their products.

Due to the unequal and undemocratic nature of the WTO, the Doha Round which supposedly will address the development needs of poor countries was used by developed countries to expand trade liberalization in the areas of investments, government procurement, and competition policies. Contentious proposals and massive protests from the people drove the Doha negotiations to a deadlock for the past 12 years. However, the pursuit of the corporate agenda did not stop. Bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTAs) became new highways for securing concessions and required poor countries to implement liberalization policies which strip them of hard-won protection measures under the existing WTO rules.

Decades of implementing WTO policies and FTAs under the banner of free trade has not delivered the development needed by the people. Instead, these policies and agreements pushed people deeper into poverty and dependence. Neoliberal policies increased unfair competition for natural resources between agri-corporate giants and small peasants, magnified threats of evictions of small holders, led to fluctuations in crop price in the global market, resulted into hike in costs of inputs for production. Far from addressing hunger, the AoA facilitated the destruction of the already backward and underdeveloped local agriculture of developing countries. The deluge of cheaper subsidized food imports particularly from the United States (US), Canada, and European Union (EU) destroyed the already backward rural food systems and worsened the poverty of small agricultural producers.

The incipient national industries of poor countries likewise did not survive the intense competition from the large amounts of imports and foreign investments. The resulting destruction of local economies, job losses, ultra-low wages and chronic poverty push millions of workers and their families to become migrant workers. The WTO through its neoliberal agenda delivers fatter profit margins to big capital by privatizing the deployment of migrant workers and cornering the lucrative remittance market, enriching predatory recruitment agencies and banks while ignoring attendant violations of migrant human rights such as trafficking, overcharging of fees, forced labor and criminalization of undocumented migrants.

Oppressive social structures that undermine women’s rights and welfare are further strengthened by neoliberal trade. The destruction of local economies, the intense competition for natural resources and jobs increased the landlessness of women and forced many of them to accept low-paying jobs in sub-human conditions to feed their families. The privatization of social services and offering them up for grabs by TNCs has negatively impacted women’s access to education, water, health, and other vital services.

Investment liberalization and the entry of foreign extractive industries such as logging, mining, and even energy companies have invaded indigenous people’s territories. Land grabbing and incursion of foreign investors in their territories worsen the marginalization IPs whose right to self-determination, self-determined sustainable development, and collective rights as indigenous peoples their traditional lands, territories and resources are violated.

The liberalization of finance has promoted a global financial market that dominates over the real economy, foments greed and is incapable of supporting needed long term investment in socially and ecologically sustainable production.

Push for People’s Alternatives to the WTO!

The lingering and worsening multiple crises compels global monopoly capital to ‘salvage’ the WTO in its 9th Ministerial Conference (MC9) on December 2013 in Bali, Indonesia. However, solutions being offered by the neoliberalizers are more of the same. The Bali Package and the post-Bali agenda being pushed in the MC9 are calling for more liberalization in all areas of trade including information technology, environmental goods and services, government procurement, and movement of migrant workers. The recent developments in the negotiations over trade facilitation and agriculture bears evidence to the influence and arm twisting done by developed countries to promote their agenda.

The massive poverty and maldevelopment that resulted from the two decades of trade liberalization are enough proof that WTO will not deliver genuine, sustainable development. The WTO should be junked and replaced by a multilateral trading system that will ensure development justice. Building on the Bandung principles and past declarations of visions for alternatives, governments must adopt a new trade regime based on the following principles that will promote people’s development:

Respect and uphold genuine democratic processes and ensure democratic participation of marginalized groups, i.e. women, peasants, fishers, workers, indigenous people: groups who are shut out in the current undemocratic and secretive WTO process but bear most of the burdens of unbridled liberalization. People’s collective voices should count in planning and implementing development strategies.

Respect the sovereignty of countries to chart their own development paths, based on local conditions. For example, policy space must be available to countries to adopt economic development and other domestic policies that promotes human rights, welfare, sustainable development, and the economic equality of the people as well as protect the environment and respect cultural diversity.

Provide domestic jobs and ensure the rights of workers, both local and migrant, to humane working conditions, just wages, freedom of organization, collective actions, gender justice and universal social protection. Ensure access to science and technology as well as access to social services including clean water, public health services, life-saving medicines among others.

Promotes alternative forms of regional integration that aim to achieve complementarity and
solidarity between countries to satisfy the needs of their population in a much more rational and efficient way.

Regulate the financial sector to ensure sustainability and resiliency against financial crisis and reorient it towards the satisfaction of the development needs of the people.

All over the world and at different levels, people are pushing back against the corporate agenda not only by opposing neoliberal policies with street protests and collective actions against corporate intrusions but also with solutions on the ground, proving that there are alternatives after all.
Although highly constrained by the dominant capitalist system, fair trade practices applied in grassroots initiatives on people-to-people trade arrangements in order to facilitate exports from developing countries to industrialised countries at fair prices are very positive when they provide training and technology transfer, foster community development on democratic terms, and the development of long-term relationships of international solidarity.
The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) on the other hand is an example of an existing multilateral trade regime, built on principles opposite to those of the WTO. ALBA wishes to consolidate regional economic integration based on a vision of social welfare; bartering and mutual economic aid aimed at rapid achievement of economic redistribution, social justice and economic development goals.

System change is needed. The corporate-centered global economic system implemented by the WTO and similar economic agreements must end. CSOs must continue pushing their governments to resist unfair trade agreements. Existing alternatives both at the community and international levels show that another trade regime, pursuing people’s development for a sustainable and just world, is possible and worth struggling for.

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