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European civil society denounces EC’s WTO stance

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 11 May 2001 - - Civil Society organizations from 19 European countries have sent an open letter to EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy sharply criticising the EU’s stance in the WTO in pushing for a ‘comprehensive new WTO trade round focussing on investment and competition’, and the EU’s so- called civil society consultations on the modalities for such a round.

“The concerns of developing countries need to be taken into consideration, if not, the next WTO Ministerial in Qatar could turn out to be another Seattle,” the NGOs said.

Ninety-nine associations in the pan-European ‘Seattle to Brussels Network’ have sent the open letter, in response to Mr. Lamy’s invitation to the NGOs and the business lobby to a two-hour consultations in Brussels and “denounced” the consultation as an “unbalanced exercise” focussing on the modalities to launch a new round and accused the Commission of persistently failing to take account of the concerns of many NGOs and developing countries.

The civil society organizations in the network groups development, environment, human rights, women’s and farmers organizations, trade unions and research institutes across Europe.

The NGOs expressed their deep concern about the consultations, for which Lamy sent out invitations on 10 May and said a year after the collapse of the Seattle ministerial, the EC was ignoring the concerns of developing countries, and rather than being committed to an assessment of the impacts of the Uruguay Round was pushing for a comprehensive new round focussing on investment and competition policy.

The NGOs also accused the EU Commission of having special issue and contact groups - comprising such organizations as the UNICE, COPA and the European Services Forum that lobby for the interests of the big companies and agribusinesses, while excluding concerns of small scale enterprises and farmers.

The EC, the NGOs said, appeared to have little intention of reviewing and rectifying the deficiencies of the current WTO regime or taking into account the concerns of many campaign groups and organizations, and that many members of these organizations felt that participation in the EC consultations was “pointless and counter- productive.”

The civil society groups said they had signed the “WTO: Shrink or Sink!” statement calling on governments to adopt eleven clear steps to rollback the power and authority of the WTO, and asked the EC to withdraw its proposals for a comprehensive new round, and halt any further negotiations to expand the scope and power of the WTO, notably in investment, competition, government procurement, trade facilitation, bio-technology and accelerated tariff liberalization.

The letter to Commissioner Lamy said that the civil society organizations in the network “are deeply concerned about these consultations and the EU’s position.”

“For example, it appears that more than a year after the collapse of the WTO’s Seattle Ministerial and despite worldwide opposition to a new round from almost 1500 NGOs in 89 countries and many developing countries: the EC is still not committed to an assessment of the impacts of the Uruguay Round.

“ The EC continues to push for a comprehensive new WTO trade round focussing on investment and competition.

“The EC’s consultations focus mostly on modalities for a new round rather than engaging in a broad and public debate on alternative and sustainable forms of trade.

In special issue groups, the issue of investment and competition are discussed that have been rejected by groups all over the world and many developing countries as new issues in the WTO. The new plurilateral approach for investment and competition and a GATS-type approach for investment are also rejected by the NGOs.

The contact group established by the EC includes business groups such as UNICE, COPA and the European Services Forum that lobby for the interests of large companies and agribusinesses, but excludes the concerns of small scale enterprises and farmers, the letter said.

“The contact group is inherently exclusive and untransparent. Its problematic structure is an obstacle to a truly open, wider and substantive public debate about the EU’s neo-liberal agenda,” the NGOs said, and complained that exclusive meetings with business interest groups are undertaken in addition to the consultations.

“In short, the EC appears to have little intention of reviewing and rectifying deficiencies of the current WTO regime or taking into account the concerns of many campaign groups and organisations.

“Because of these reasons many members of organisations, including many in the Seattle to Brussels Network, are of the opinion that participation in these consultations is pointless and even counterproductive.”

The letter added: “Our members have signed the WTO: Shrink or Sink! statement.  In this statement we call on governments to follow eleven clear steps to rollback the power and authority of the WTO and to develop a sustainable, socially just and democratically accountable trade system.

“We believe the EU should withdraw its proposal for a comprehensive new round.  Negotiations already underway (concerning agriculture, intellectual property rights, and services) are already sufficiently controversial and have the potential to have severe negative impacts on people and their environment. We reiterate our call for a halt on further negotiation that would expand the scope and power of the WTO, notably in investment, competition, government procurement, trade facilitation, biotechnology, and accelerated tariff liberalisation.

“The concerns of developing countries need to be taken into consideration. If not, the next WTO Ministerial in Qatar could turn out to be another Seattle.

“The Commission should make every effort to develop a meaningful policy for an equitable and sustainable trading system. Such a policy can only be formulated after a comprehensive public debate and sustained and public dialogue with WTO members and groups from all continents about the impacts of the Uruguay Round.”

[The text of the letter and signatures can be found at the website:. The shrink or sink statement can be found at: www.citizen.org/tpctrade/gattwto/shrinksink/shrinksink.htm>] . – SUNS4894

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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