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Third World NGOs against new WTO round


NGOs and social movements in the South have been actively
campaigning against the proposed new Round of trade talks
which Northern countries are attempting to launch at Seattle.
Cecilia Oh reports.




Introduction

NON-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social movements in
the Third World have been increasingly active in national,
regional and international campaigning against the proposed
new round of multilateral trade negotiations which developed
countries plan to launch at the World Trade Organisation (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 issues from being injected into a new round of WTO
negotiations.

A joint NGO statement, endorsed by over 1,200 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 multilateral trade system - 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
against a WTO new Round were reported in countries including
Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, South Korea, Ghana, Zimbabwe
and Gambia.

ACTIONS IN ASIA

Indonesia

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: ÔWe
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 the
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.

Malaysia

In Malaysia, a group of 15 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 the 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 include 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, the Malay Students Federation and
the Islamic Youth Movement.

Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, UBINIG (a policy research and training group)
on 15 September sent a protest letter against the proposed
Millennium Round to all the national daily newspapers. UBINIG
was to organise a meeting with members of political parties,
business communities and social and environmental activists to
discuss the issue on 26 September. 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.'

Korea

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

Regional action

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 Networks representatives
in Ghana said: 'Some African 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 a 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.'

Members of the ATN were to take their views to the Conference
of African Ministers of Trade and Industry held in Algiers,
under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity
(OAU), as well as to the WTO Ministerial Conference in
Seattle.

Ghana

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 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 Group of 77 (G77) developing countries. 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-time 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 at the proposals for new issues and were concerned
over the government's ability 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.

Zimbabwe

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.

Gambia

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
trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (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. - (Oct/Nov 99)

Cecilia Oh is a researcher at Third World Network.

 


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