WTO Derailed

A Concise History

Znet / Z mag.org, 12/28/04


Economic globalization creates wealth, but only for the elite who benefits from the surge of consolidations, mergers, global scale technology and financial activity (gambling in currency speculation) in this "casino economy". The rising tide of free trade and (economic) globalization is supposed to "lift all boats", and finally end poverty. But in the half century since this big tide began, the world has more poverty than ever before, and the situation is getting even worse. UNICEF estimates that every hour 1000 children die from easily preventable disease, and almost twice as many women die or suffer from serious disability in pregnancy or childbirth because of the lack of simple remedies and care. In his Final Report to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Special Rapporteur Leandro Despouy cites the World Health Organization's characterization of extreme poverty as the world's most ruthless killer and the greatest cause of suffering on earth:

"No other disease compares to the devastation of hunger which has caused more deaths in the past two years than were killed in the two World Wars together. To make the end to this tragedy, only 10 percent of U.S. military spending would be enough."


Similarly, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that the number of chronically hungry people in the world has been increasing steadily since the early 1990s. In a world in which a few enjoy unimaginable wealth, two hundred million children die each year from hunger-related disease. A hundred million children are living or working on the streets. Just imagine that eight hundred million people go to bed hungry each night. But this human tragedy is not confined to poor countries only. Even in a country as wealthy as the United States, about 10 percent of U.S. households, accounting for 31 million people, do not have access to enough food to meet their basic needs. So 31 million people experience outright hunger, while the richest 5 percent of the U.S. population own 81.9 percent of corporate stock, and controls 57.4 percent of the net worth of all people in the United States.[ii] To put the hint from above in a different way, it means that by the time you finish reading this page 100 people will have died from easily preventable and hunger related disease. Half of them will be children aged under five. So much for rising tide that lifts all boats... It lifts only yachts...

Of course the World Trade Organization (WTO) is not the only cause for the tragedy described above, but as many economists note, it is an important part of the Unholy Trio (WTO, World Bank, International Monetary Fund), which is the main drive behind economic globalization. But when we cut through the corporate propaganda about the benefits of globalization and really look at the track record of the WTO what we find is a slow motion coup d'etat, a low intensity war waged to redefine free society - democracy and its non-commercial health, safety and other protections, for example - as subordinate to the dictates of big business.

Approval of these "free-trade" agreements has institutionalized a global economic and political structure that makes every government increasingly hostage to an unaccountable system of transnational governance designed to increase corporate profit, often with complete disregard for social and ecological consequences. Under this new system, many decisions affecting people's daily lives are being shifted away from our local and national governments and being placed increasingly in the hands of unelected trade bureaucrats sitting behind closed doors in Geneva, Switzerland. These bureaucrats, for example, are now empowered to dictate whether people in Slovenia can pursue certain actions to prevent the destruction of their forests or determine if carcinogenic pesticides can be banned from their food. At stake is the very basis of democracy and accountable decision-making. The establishment of the WTO therefore marks landmark formalization and strengthening of their power.

There were many who argued that the fall of Berlin wall and collapse of Soviet Block would mark the beginning of a new era, in which a full blow of capitalism, allowed freely to roam across the globe, would certainly mark "the end of history". Ten years later, we can claim with certainty that they were wrong. In the first place Francis Fukuyama, although he succeeded to sell quite a lot of his incorrect "Bibles" of neoliberalism, and also former British Prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who claimed a few years earlier that "there is no alternative" to the rise of neoliberalism (a phrase so common that was often appreviated to TINA).

But on January 1, 1994, the indigenous people of Chiapas came from the deepest reaches of the jungle, from the deepest reaches of abandonment, with rifles high, crying out that ordinary people also have the right to live. The Zapatistas chose to start their war against neoliberalism and/or economic globalization on the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took affect. Dressed in handmade blankets, rough sandals, woolen ski-masks to hide their faces, and many of them armed only with wooden facsimiles of guns, they took over Plaza de Armas in San Cristobal de las Casas and five Chiapas towns. Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesperson of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), once explained: "Neoliberalism is not in a crisis, neoliberalism is a crisis!"

According to Marcos, nowadays the planet is a battlefield of the Fourth World War (the Third was so-called Cold war). The aim of the war is a conquest of the entire world through the market. Today's arms are financial, though millions of people are maimed or killed every moment. Those waging war are aiming to convert the whole world into one big business, with WTO, World Bank, IMF, OECD, and the President of the United States as the board of directors. Globalization is thus merely the totalitarian extension of the market logic to all aspects of life. Meanwhile, nine-tenths of world's population lives with "the jagged pieces that do not fit". Marcos writes:

"What we have here today is a puzzle. When we attempt to put these pieces together in order to arrive at an understanding of today's world, we find that a lot of pieces are missing. Still, we can start with seven of them, in hope that this conflict won't end with the destruction of humanity. Seven pieces to draw, color in, cut out, and put together with others, in order to solve this global puzzle.

The first piece has the shape of a dollar sign and is green. This piece consists of the new concentration of global wealth in fewer and fewer hands, and the unprecedented extension of hopeless poverty.

The second piece is triangular (depicts the pyramid of worldwide exploitation), and consists of a lie. The new world order claims to rationalize and modernize production and human endeavor. In reality, it is a return to the barbarism of the beginnings of the industrial revolution with important difference, that the barbarism is unchecked by any opposing ethical consideration or principle.

The third piece is round like a vicious circle, and consists of enforced migration. Those who have nothing are forced to migrate to survive. Yet the new world order works according to the market principle, that anybody who doesn't produce and doesn't consume and has no money to put into a bank, is redundant. So the emigrants, the jobless, the landless, the homeless, are treated as the waste that should be eliminated.

The fourth piece is rectangular like a mirror, and consists of an ongoing exchange between the commercial banks and the world's modern soldier - financial globalization is enforcing globalization of crime.

The fifth piece is more or less like a pentagon, and consists of physical repression. The nation-states under the new world order have lost their economic independence, their political initiative, and their sovereignty. Nowadays, the nation-states are just departments of the corporation known as the world, and politicians only local managers. The new task of nation-states is to manage what is allowed to them, to protect the interests of the market and to control and police the redundant.

The sixth piece is in the shape of a scribble, and consists of breakages. On the one hand the new world order does away with frontiers and distances by telecommunication (of exchanges), and deals by obligatory free-trade zones, and by imposing everywhere law of the market.

The seventh piece has the shape of a pocket, and consists of all various pockets of resistance against new world order that are developing around the world. The many pockets do not have a common political program per se. How could they, existing as they do in broken puzzle, but exactly their heterogeneity may be a promise."[iii]

As we can see, the seven pieces will never fit together to make any sense, even as we try as hard as we can. Marcos warns that this lack of sense, this absurdity, is endemic to the new world order. When the political and business elite met on the fifth WTO ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003, Subcomandante Marcos wrote to the international civil society his famous communique The Death Train of the WTO. It is worth quoting in length:

"Brothers and sisters of Mexico and the world, who are gathered in Cancun in a mobilization against neoliberalism, greetings from men, women, children and elderly of the Zapatista National Liberation Army. It is an honor for us that, amid your meetings, agreements and mobilizations, you have found time and place to hear our words.

The world movement against the globalization of death and destruction is experiencing one of its brightest moments in Cancun today. Not far from where you are meeting, a handful of slaves to money are negotiating the ways and means of continuing crime of economic globalization. The difference between them and all of us is not in the pockets of one or the other, although their pockets overflow with money while ours overflow with hope. No, the difference is not in the wallet, but in the heart. We have in our hearts a future to build. They only have the past which they want to repeat eternally. We have hope. They have death. We have liberty. They want to enslave us.

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that the people who think themselves the owners of the planet have had to hide behind high walls and their pathetic security forces in order to put their plans in place. As if at war, the high command of the multinational army that wants to conquer the world in the only way possible, that is to say, to destroy it, meets behind a system of security that is as large as their fear.

Before, the powerful met behind the backs of the world to scheme their future wars and displacements. Today they have to do it in front of thousands in Cancun and millions around the world. This is what this is all about. It is war. A war against humanity. The globalization of those who are above us is nothing more than a global machine that feeds on blood and defecates in dollars.

In complex equation that turns death into money, there is a group of humans who command a very low price in the global slaughterhouse - the indigenous, the young, the women, the children, the elderly, the migrants, all those who are different. That is to say, the immense majority of humanity. This is a world war of the powerful who want to turn the planet into a private club that reserves the right to refuse admission. The exclusive luxury zone where they meet is a microcosm of their project for the planet, a complex of hotels, restaurants, and recreation zones protected by armies and police.

All of us are given the option of being inside this zone, but only as servants. Or we can remain outside of the world, outside life. But we have no reason to obey and accept this choice between living as servants or dying. We can built a new path, one where living means life with dignity and freedom. To build this alternative is possible and necessary.

Brothers and sisters, there is dissent over the project of economic globalization all over the world. Those above, who globalize conformism, cynicism, stupidity, war, destruction and death. And those below, who globalize rebellion, hope, creativity, intelligence, imagination, life, memory and the construction of a world that we can all fit in, a world with democracy, liberty and justice. We hope the death train of the World Trade Organization will be derailed in Cancun and everywhere else."[iv]

Indeed, they did. And as we will see, that was the right thing to do.


The WTO has emerged as the third pillar of the Bretton Woods system. A very healthy debate was launched after World War Two about the need for global trade and investment institution that could help generate full employment, protect workers rights around the globe, and protect against what were then referred to as "global cartels" - small groups of corporations that gained too much power over a sector. These broad-based were enshrined in a Havana charter that proposed the formation of an International Trade Organization (ITO). It was rejected by the U.S. Senate on the grounds that its broad mandate would compromise U.S. sovereignty, only one element of the ITO, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), was created instead, with more narrow goal of reducing tariffs in goods and services and setting a handful of broad trade principles. Its aim was to reduce national trade barriers and to stop the competitive trade policies that had hobbled the global economy prior to World War Two.

World trade grew dramatically following the World War Two, under the guidance of the GATT. Seven rounds of tariff reductions were negotiated under the GATT treaty - the final "Uruguay Round" began in 1986. The WTO, established in January 1, 1995, is the outcome of the Uruguay Round of trade talks, held from 1986 to 1993 under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). "The Final Act of Embodying the Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations" was enacted in 1994, in Marrakech. It paved the way for the new WTO and gave that body the ability to overrule or undermine international conventions, acts, treaties, and agreements.[v] Like the GATT, the WTO is not a United Nations agency.

At the insistence of the United States the Uruguay Round talks included agriculture and services for the first time. With 147 members (as in April 2004) the WTO enforces the 1993 Uruguay Round agreements: the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the agreements on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) and Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs).

The WTO, unlike GATT, has the official status of an international organization rather than loosely-structured treaty. The WTO presents itself as a forum for members to negotiate over trade liberalization. In practice the organization is a trade liberalization juggernaut which has been ceded enormous power by its members and, on some issues, has assumed the role of global economic governance. The WTO furthers the cause of liberalization, to the chief benefit of those who stand to gain the most from liberalization - in practice the Transnational Corporations (TNCs). The WTO is an organization "that mediates trade disputes, seeks to reduce barriers between countries and embodies the agreements," WTO director-general Mike Moore told in Seattle in 1999 at the time of the WTO's third ministerial. But the WTO is far more.

Unlike past trade pacts, the WTO and its underlying agreements move far beyond traditional commercial matters such as tariffs, import quotas or requirements that foreign and domestic goods be treated equally. The WTO's provisions set limits on the strength of countries' food safety laws and the comprehensiveness of product labeling policies. They forbid countries from banning products made with child labor. They can even regulate expenditure of local tax dollar: for instance, prohibiting environmental or human rights considerations in government purchasing decisions.


The WTO has rapidly accumulated a sordid record. Binding decisions from its enforcement tribunals have undermined consumer and environmental protections around the world. TNCs have used the threat of WTO action to roll back or block countless rules designed to benefit workers, consumers and the environment, and to promote human rights and development in the world's poorest countries. But all this has been predicted long before the WTO came into formal effect. From the outset GATT was seen as a "rich man's club" dominated by Western industrial countries.

While initially limited to the trade expansion mandate, GATT evolved into institution that promoted corporate rights over human rights and other social and environmental priorities. In 1980s, economists and politicians, powered by the so-called "Reagan Revolution" and the Thatcher and Kohl ascendancies in Europe, began planning a new but dramatically different GATT negotiating round. Their goal was to expand the GATT disciplines to bind signatory governments to a set of multilateral policies regarding the service, government procurement, and investment sectors; to establish global limits on government regulation of environmental, food safety, and product standards; to establish new protections for corporate intellectual property rights granted in rich countries; and to have this broad panoply of one-size-fits-all rules strongly enforced over every level of government in every signatory country.

When the Uruguay Round was being negotiated, environmental, labor and consumer groups thus rightly warned that the GATT system, which had existed for decades, was being dramatically recast and expanded in a way that would subjugate main public interest needs to corporate interests. Proponents of the Uruguay Round and the WTO dismissed these concerns as ill-informed doomsday prophesies. They promised that the WTO would pose no threat to domestic sovereignty or democratic, accountable policy-making. They promised enormous economic gains worldwide if the Uruguay Round were implemented: the U.S. trade deficit would decrease by $60 billion in ten years[vi] , Latin American countries would boom, and Asian grow would keep pace.

Now, nearly nine years later, it is clear that the promised economic gains have not been realized. Not only has the WTO failed to live up to its promises, but it is wreaking continuing damage to health, human rights, safety and environmental safeguard, and even local/indigenous cultures (ergo cultural diversity).[vii]

TNCs are powerful (rich) enough to exert considerable influence on the WTO. While it is corporations rather than countries that trade[viii] , the WTO is made up of countries. It is no surprise then that its decisions are usually in the line with corporate expectations. Government ministers and their officials conduct business at the WTO meetings under the gaze of representatives from major corporations, who may even be a part of the official delegation. It is evident that the WTO should be either substantially reformed or replaced. The following short list suggests that (as it is now) the WTO differs from any kind of government democratic societies are familiar with:[ix]

- It operates in secret. The judges that sit on the WTO panels are appointed. They meet behind closed doors. They hear no outside witnesses. Their proceedings are not made public.

- WTO judges are not chosen because of their expertise in the subject they are ruling on, but for adherence to the tenets of free trade.

- Only governments can bring a case to the trade panels. Citizen organizations, individuals, and local governments cannot.

- The WTO allows nations to enact laws that are weaker than global standards but not stronger.

- The WTO offers no democratic process for change. It can be amended, but only from within.

- In theory the WTO is a "one-member country, one-vote" democracy, but in practice there has never been a vote in its nine years' existence. Maybe because developing-country members could vote to change the rules of game?

- The WTO is fundamentally undemocratic: the policies of the WTO impact all aspects of society and the planet, but it is not a democratic, transparent institution. The WTO rules are written by and for corporations with inside access to the negotiations. For example, the US Trade Representative gets heavy input for negotiations from 17 "Industry Sector Advisory Committees". Citizen input by consumer, environmental, human rights and labor organizations is consistently ignored. Even simple requests for information are denied, and the proceedings are held in secret. Who elected this secret global government?

- The WTO will not make us safer: the WTO would like you to believe that creating a world of "free trade" will promote global understanding and peace. On the contrary, the domination of international trade by rich countries for the benefit of their individual interests fuels anger and resentment that make us less safe. To build real global security, we need international agreements that respect people's rights to democracy and trade systems that promote global justice.

- The WTO tramples labor and human rights: WTO rules put the "rights" of corporations to profit over human and labor rights. The WTO encourages a 'race to the bottom' in wages by pitting workers against each other rather than promoting internationally recognized labor standards. The WTO has ruled that it is illegal for a government to ban a product based on the way it is produced, such as with child labor. It has also ruled that governments cannot take into account "non commercial values" such as human rights, or the behavior of companies that do business with vicious dictatorships such as Burma when making purchasing decisions.

- The WTO would privatize essential services: the WTO is seeking to privatize essential public services such as education, health care, energy and water. Privatization means the selling off of public assets - such as radio airwaves or schools - to private (usually foreign) corporations, to run for profit rather than the public good. The WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services, or GATS, includes a list of about 160 threatened services including elder and child care, sewage, garbage, park maintenance, telecommunications, construction, banking, insurance, transportation, shipping, postal services, and tourism. In some countries, privatization is already occurring. Those least able to pay for vital services - working class communities and communities of color - are the ones who suffer the most.

- The WTO is destroying the environment: the WTO is being used by corporations to dismantle hard-won local and national environmental protections, which are attacked as "barriers to trade." The very first WTO panel ruled that a provision of the US Clean Air Act, requiring both domestic and foreign producers alike to produce cleaner gasoline, was illegal. The WTO declared illegal a provision of the Endangered Species Act that requires shrimp sold in the US to be caught with an inexpensive device allowing endangered sea turtles to escape. The WTO is attempting to deregulate industries including logging, fishing, water utilities, and energy distribution, which will lead to further exploitation of these natural resources.

- The WTO is killing people: the WTO's fierce defense of "Trade Related Intellectual Property" rights (TRIPs) - patents, copyrights and trademarks - comes at the expense of health and human lives. The WTO has protected for pharmaceutical companies' "right to profit" against governments seeking to protect their people's health by providing lifesaving medicines in countries in areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where thousands die every day from HIV/AIDS. Developing countries won an important victory in 2001 when they affirmed the right to produce generic drugs (or import them if they lacked production capacity), so that they could provide essential lifesaving medicines to their populations less expensively. Unfortunately, in September 2003, many new conditions were agreed to that will make it more difficult for countries to produce those drugs. Once again, the WTO demonstrates that it favors corporate profit over saving human lives.

- The WTO is increasing inequality: free trade is not working for the majority of the world. During the most recent period of rapid growth in global trade and investment (1960 to 1998) inequality worsened both internationally and within countries. The UN Development Program reports that the richest 20 percent of the world's population consume 86 percent of the world's resources while the poorest 80 percent consume just 14 percent. WTO rules have hastened these trends by opening up countries to foreign investment and thereby making it easier for production to go where the labor is cheapest and most easily exploited and environmental costs are low.

- The WTO is increasing hunger: farmers produce enough food in the world to feed everyone - yet because of corporate control of food distribution, as many as 800 million people worldwide suffer from chronic malnutrition. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, food is a human right. In developing countries, as many as four out of every five people make their living from the land. But the leading principle in the WTO's Agreement on Agriculture is that market forces should control agricultural policies-rather than a national commitment to guarantee food security and maintain decent family farmer incomes. WTO policies have allowed dumping of heavily subsidized industrially produced food into poor countries, undermining local production and increasing hunger.

- The WTO hurts poor, small countries in favor of rich powerful nations: the WTO supposedly operates on a consensus basis, with equal decision-making power for all. In reality, many important decisions get made in a process whereby poor countries' negotiators are not even invited to closed door meetings - and then "agreements" are announced that poor countries didn't even know were being discussed. Many countries do not even have enough trade personnel to participate in all the negotiations or to even have a permanent representative at the WTO. This severely disadvantages poor countries from representing their interests. Likewise, many countries are too poor to defend themselves from WTO challenges from the rich countries, and change their laws rather than pay for their own defense.

- The WTO undermines local level decision-making and national sovereignty: the WTO's "most favored nation" provision requires all WTO member countries to treat each other equally and to treat all corporations from these countries equally regardless of their track record. Local policies aimed at rewarding companies who hire local residents, use domestic materials, or adopt environmentally sound practices are essentially illegal under the WTO. Developing countries are prohibited from creating local laws that developed countries once pursued, such as protecting new, domestic industries until they can be internationally competitive. California Governor Gray Davis vetoed a "Buy California" bill that would have granted a small preference to local businesses because it was WTO-illegal. Conforming with the WTO required entire sections of US laws to be rewritten. Many countries are even changing their laws and constitutions in anticipation of potential future WTO rulings and negotiations.


In late November 1999, the 134 countries that were WTO Members met in Seattle, Washington, for a Third Ministerial Summit to determine the future plan of the WTO. Most corporate interests sought a major expansion of WTO rules to cover education and health services and also to establish new rights for currency speculators and foreign investors (bringing into the WTO the Multilateral Agreement on Investment - MAI). [x] The main goal of the Seattle Ministerial was to obtain an agreement to: launch new negotiations to expand the scope of the WTO to include new service sector, such as health and education; expand the rules concerning government procurement to all WTO members, first by requiring all WTO Member countries to publicly list all of their procurement activity and to agree to future negotiations limiting the ability of governments to take non-commercial considerations; sign a "Global Free Logging" pact that could increase deforestation by 4% per year; launch new negotiations on the WTO protections for biotechnology products (such as genetically modified organisms); further deregulate agricultural trade.

But a global coalition of citizen groups (Seattle Coalition) - consumer, religious, environmental, labor, family farm etc. - under the slogan "No New Round, Turnaround" deadlocked WTO negotiators and brought that powerful agency's momentum to a standstill.[xi] It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of this protest known as the Battle of Seattle which represents the first manifestation of global resistance against neoliberalism and corporate greed.

After efforts to launch a new round of trade negotiations at Seattle Ministerial were disrupted, the WTO was once again forced to expose its undemocratic nature by moving its 2001 Ministerial Meeting to Qatar, a remote monarchy where public protest are ruthlessly suppressed.

The protests that contributed to a breakdown of the WTO meeting in Seattle emboldened some governments of Southern countries to be more forthright in their challenge to WTO procedures and proposals harmful to their national interests. Most poor countries have never enjoyed much benefit from economic globalization. After three decades of strong doses of IMF and World Bank and less than a decade of WTO policies, many have realized that (economic) globalization is a false promise, that the policies are not designed to benefit them but to benefit rich industrial countries and their TNCs. For this reason, many of the poor nations of the world (notably from the Caribbean and Asia) - held firmly together in the opposition to the WTO in Seattle and only reluctantly agreed to further trade talks in Doha.

At November 2001 WTO Ministerial Meeting in Doha, the WTO made once again explicit its intention to bring into force the goals of the Seattle Ministerial (see above), to bring into its millieu of work the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), and to codify its superiority to Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEA) and thus wiping out generations of effort These attempts were strongly resisted by most of the developing countries (including regional groupings), which argued that (a) they were not yet ready to enter negotiations or consider agreements on these issues; (b) they did not adequately understand implications of the proposed issues; and (c) from the limited understanding they did have, they were very concerned that new agreements in these areas would add to their already heavy obligations and further restrict their development prospects.

The Doha meeting ended with confusing language on both the calls for fairer trade agenda of the developing nations and the desire for new issues by the developed countries. But one thing was sure - the "death train" of the WTO will derail sooner or later...


At the last meeting in Doha, the developing countries insisted that if another round of trade negotiations was to be initiated, their concerns had to be heard - and they achieved some notable concessions. With China's joining the WTO, the developing countries have had a powerful voice on their side, though the interests of China and those of many of the other developing countries do not fully coincide. The WTO held its fifth Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003. On the agenda were a range of issues agreed upon in Doha. On the other hand, the EU and the U.S. had continued to push for an expansion of the WTO's powers to include new issues, insisting that these issues get dealt with first before the development issues that should have been at the top of the agenda. From the start of the conference, rich countries disowned big parts of the Doha agenda. The European Union, for instance, denied it had ever promised to get rid of export subsidies. Led by India, many poor countries denied that they ever signed up for talks on new rules. Other poor countries spent more time moaning about their grievances over earlier trade rounds than they did in negotiating the new one. Several rich countries too showed little interest in compromise. Japan, for instance, seemed content simply to say no to any cuts in rice tariffs.

The immediate reason for the collapse of talks was the failure to resolve serious differences between the rich and poor nations. Many developing countries, including the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, the African Union, G-21, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Asian countries said they would like the conference not to launch negotiations on the Singapore issues (The issues emerging from the Singapore conference in December 1996 relate to investment, competition, government procurement and trade facilitation.) The developing countries stood firm even after the EU agreed to drop two of these issues and retain on the agenda trade facilitation, considered key to small and medium enterprises, and transparency in public procurement. Roberto Bissio, director of the Uruguay-based Social Watch said this was not surprising. The Doha Development Agenda agreed two years ago in the capital of Qatar clearly stated that the Singapore issues would be discussed only after "an explicit consensus" had been reached. But that had clearly not happened.

Led by Brazil, China and India, this so-called G21 became a powerful voice. It represented half the world's population and two-thirds of its farmers. It was well organized and professional. Although it spanned diverse interests - India, for instance, is terrified of lowering tariffs on farm goods, while Brazil, a huge and competitive exporter, wants free trade as fast as possible - the G21 stood together and hammered one message home: rich countries, as the most profligate agricultural subsidizers, should make bigger efforts to cut subsidies and free farm trade. The level of support given to farmers by the rich countries of the OECD has remained more or less unchanged (at over $300 billion) for the past 15 years.

While the fight between Europe, America and the G21 received most attention, another alliance of poor countries, most of them from Africa, was also worried about agriculture, but for different reasons. They feared that freeing farm trade would mean losing their special preferences. (Europe's former colonies, for instance, get special access to the EU's markets for their bananas.) And many, particularly a small group of countries in West Africa, worried most of all about cotton. Prodded and encouraged by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially Oxfam, a group of four West African countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali - managed to get cotton included as an explicit item on the Cancun agenda. Their grievances were simple, and justified. West African cotton farmers are being crushed by rich-country subsidies, particularly the $3 billion-plus a year that America lavishes on its 25,000 cotton farmers, helping to make it the world's biggest exporter, depressing prices and wrecking the global market. The West African four wanted a speedy end to these subsidies and compensation for the damage that they had caused. Though small fry compared with the overall size of farm subsidies, the cotton issue (like an earlier struggle over poor-country access to cheap drugs) came to be seen as the test of whether the Doha round was indeed focused on the poor.

Before Cancun, the U.S./EU had reached an agreement on agriculture which in effect was forcing the South to further dismantle trade barriers, while refusing to reduce export subsidies to the US and European agribusiness. A group of 21 developing countries had made a counter proposal, insisting on removal of export subsidies which are killing Third World farmers before further reduction of tariffs. There was a deadlock in agriculture over the two texts. When the WTO issued a draft declaration on 13th, it failed to reflect any of the concerns of the South. What is worse, the demand of African cotton producing countries to protect them from the distortions of U.S. dumping was trivialized to a paragraph suggesting that Africans should abandon cotton production. U.S. subsidies to cotton production and exports have increased to $4 billion after the new U.S. Farm Act.

In 2001, the cost of production of cotton in US was $0.9313/bushel, while the export price was $0.3968/bushel, a dumping of 57 per cent. This has increased from 17 per cent in 1995. WTO has thus encouraged dumping while preventing poor countries to protect themselves from the devastating impacts of dumping. The U.S. farm bill has increased subsidies by $82 billion. The U.S. farm act of 2002 allows the U.S. Government to pay cotton farmers the difference between the world market price, $1.23 per kilo, and a fantasy ideal price of $1.57 per kilo. US cotton farmers receive $3.9 billion, most of it going to the giant corporate farmers. With these subsidies, the US has doubled cotton exports and destroyed the livelihoods and incomes of 250 million African cotton farmers.[xii]

But the draft text that emerged halfway through the Cancun meeting was a huge disappointment. The promises on cotton were vague, pledging a WTO review of the textiles sector, but with no mention of eliminating subsidies or of compensation. Worse, it suggested that the West African countries should be encouraged to diversify out of cotton altogether. This hard-line stance had American fingerprints all over it. Political realities in Congress (the chairman of the Senate agriculture committee is a close ally of the cotton farmers) made American negotiators fiercely defensive of their outrageous subsidies.

For the Africans, the vague text was a big blow. As a result, the poorest countries dug in their heels when it came to the other big controversial area: that of extending trade negotiations into the four new Singapore issues. And not just that. African countries led the walkout by WTO members who were outraged at the refusal of WTO and rich countries to remove distortions and unfairness in trade and the attempt by the rich to impose new disciplines on investment competition, government procurement and trade facilitation. What the U.S./EU wanted in Cancun was to continue the right to dump, continue unfair trade by supporting their agribusiness interests to take over world markets through WTO's market access rules. This is what the WTO rules were designed to do.

Many perceive Cancun as a victory of democracy over dictatorship, of fairness over injustice, of the South over the North, of the poor over the rich, of people over profits, and of life over death.[xiii] And some of us rightly as a derailment of the death train of the WTO...


Today's conquistadores, corporate managers, generally measure progress by indicators of their own financial wealth, such as rising stock prices and indicators of the total output of goods and services. With few exceptions of occasional cyclical setbacks in some parts of the world (Latin America) and declining per capita incomes in the poorest African countries, these indicators generally perform well, confirming elite's premise that their program is enriching the world. In contrast, ordinary citizens measure progress by indicators of their well being, with particular concern for the lives of those most in need. As Robert Kennedy once pointed out:

"Gross National Product measures neither the health of our children, the quality of their education, nor the joy of their play. It measures neither the beauty of our poetry, nor the strength of our marriages. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It measures neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worth living. It can tell us everything about our country, except those things that make us proud to be part of it."

But these "people's" indicators are deteriorating at a frightening pace, suggesting that in terms of what really matters, things are not so bright after all. In fact, world is rapidly growing poorer. Also due "democratic" (racist would be a proper term) policies of the WTO. In its nearly ten years of existence, the WTO has had (wide-raging) devastating impact on jobs, wages and livelihoods and on international and domestic environmental, health and food safety protections, as well as on economic development, human rights and global trade and investment. Therefore we can understand why these impacts have not been systematically studied (by our democratic governments) nor have they been well covered in the mainstream media. As a consequence, most people around the globe lack an awareness that their lives, livelihoods, food, environment, and their futures, are being shaped by this powerful non-democratic and even anti-democratic institution.

No doubt, that there are other models that would result in a more equitable, safe, ecologically sound and democratically society. The question is how the majority of people worldwide who are being ill-served by this neoliberal system can best inform and organize ourselves to make the change. Eduardo Galeano, one of Latin America's foremost writers, told at the first World Social Forum, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001: "The system presents itself as eternal; the power system tells us that tomorrow is another word for today." We shouldn't forget how often in the past centuries people have been astonished by sudden crumbling of institutions, extraordinary changes of people's thoughts, unexpected eruptions of rebellions against tyrannies, quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible. We shouldn't forget how often in the past have those in power, who confidently said "never!" to possibility of change, lived embarrassed by those words.

"No building is too tall for even the smallest dog to lift its leg on..."

World Trade Organization (WTO)

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