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WTO: Second Ministerial Conference

No Cheers at Free Trade's 50th Birthday Party

The most important outcome of the Second Ministerial Conference of the WTO (Geneva, 18-20 May 1998) was that the Ministers, through their main Declaration, paved the way for their WTO Ambassadors to prepare for more significant negotiations in the next 18 months that could lead to further liberalization, and to new issues being pushed onto the WTO. This result was very much in line with the plan of Northern countries, who are spearheading the liberalization movement. But the 50th-year celebrations and the closed-door discussions were conducted in ironically seige-like conditions because of street protests against the WTO, free trade and globalization. The protests reflected the growing unease and anger of social movements, NGOs and the public worldwide over the destabilizing and often destructive consequences of globalization and liberalization.

Even in the rich countries, there is growing social and job insecurity as well as concern over increasing environmental damage caused by the intense competition between giant firms and between nations in the great globalization race, and this has led to growing public resistance in the North to the WTO. The next 12 months before the next Ministerial will see developing countries facing tremendous pressures as they will be pressed to accept further measures in the review of existing WTO agreements, and to agree to start negotiations on new issues such as investment, competition policy, government procurement and electronic commerce. The public must therefore pay even greater attention to the developments in the WTO in the coming months and keep up their own campaigns to make the WTO more accountable, to review its rules and to stop taking on more new issues.

 


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