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NGOs demand WTO head to stop his ‘New Round campaign’

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 19 Mar 2001 -- A group of non-governmental organizations, of the South and the North, in a statement issued here, have asked the WTO member-governments to reject a New Round and focus instead on solving the serious and disastrous problems caused by the WTO agreements and their implementation.

The NGOs demanded that the WTO Director-General “should also stop his New Round campaign.”

“We, the undersigned NGOs from the South and the North involved in development, poverty, environment and human rights issues, affirm our objection and opposition to proposals put forward by some countries to launch a ‘comprehensive New Round’ in the WTO this year,” the statement, drawn up after week-end strategy meetings, and with an initial sign-on of 19 organizations, said.

The statement opposed introduction of new issues, namely investment rules, competition policy rules, government procurement (even in its initial phase of transparency) in the WTO and said the 4th ministerial conference should not be made an occasion to inject these new areas into the WTO.

They also opposed the “EU tactic” of proposing a plurilateral approach to investment and competition, and said they saw the EU move, “not as a change of heart but only a tactic to draw countries into a New Round.”

In opposing a comprehensive New Round, the NGOs said:”In particular, we are strongly opposed to the introduction of new issues, namely, investment rules, competition policy rules, and government procurement (even in its initial phase of transparency), in the WTO. We do not want the 4th Ministerial Conference to be made use of as an occasion to inject these new areas into the WTO. We believe these issues are not trade issues and are not appropriate for the WTO to handle. These issues, if located in the WTO, would lead to disastrous consequences socially, environmentally, economically and for human rights, for people worldwide.  Negotiations in these issues will be particularly disastrous for people in developing countries, as their possibility for development will be closed."

“We also are opposed to the tactic of the EU in proposing a plurilateral approach to investment and competition as this is seen by us, not as a change of heart but only a tactic to draw countries into a New Round. These issues do not belong to the WTO and should not be brought in either multilateral or plurilateral mode.”

The statement added: “After many of us met many delegations in Geneva to discuss WTO issues, we have found that although some delegations are in favour of a New Round, there are even more countries that are not in favour of a New Round and several are also strongly opposed to it, and especially to the new issues. The proposal for a New Round, especially by the EU, is causing serious divisions and destabilising the multilateral trading system. We call on the proponents to call off their offensive for a Round."

Criticising the WTO Director-General, the signatories said : “We are also concerned and appalled to find that the Director-General of the WTO has been actively campaigning for a New Round, including his visits to many countries and regions. Since many WTO members are not in favour of a new Round, or are against it, it is unacceptable for a staff member of an international organization to take sides with some Members against other members."

“This is what the Director-General has been doing. He must stop this biased behaviour and remain neutral,  so as not to further damage the credibility of his office and the Secretariat.”

“The existing WTO agreement and rules, especially on agriculture, TRIPS, Services and TRIMs, are very harmful to consumers’ access to essentials, to the livelihood of farmers, to food security, to development interests, to the poor everywhere and to the environment.  These agreements must be changed, and some (for example TRIPS) should even be taken out of the WTO. This should be the focus of the WTO talks in the next years.”

The initial signatories were: Third World Network, Africa Trade Network (Ghana), Alternative Information and Development Centre (South Africa), Consumers Association of Penang, Corporate Europe Observatory (Netherlands), Council of Canadians (Canada), DAWN Caribbean, Ecoropa (Europe), Equations (India), Focus on the Global South (Thailand), IBON Foundation (the Philippines), International NGO Forum on Indonesia Development, Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy (USA), Institute del Tercer Mundo (Uruguay), Legal Resources Centre (Philippines), Solon Foundation (Bolivia), Polaris Institute (Canada), Public Citizen (USA) and World Development Movement (UK).-SUNS4858

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

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