Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec17/31)
15 December 2017
Third World Network
CSOs disappointed over MC11 failure to deliver on PSH, development
Published in SUNS #8597 dated 15 December 2017
Geneva, 14 Dec (Kanaga Raja) - A global network of civil society organisations
(CSOs) has expressed deep disappointment over the failure of the eleventh
WTO ministerial conference (MC11) to bring about outcomes amongst
others on a permanent solution for public stockholding programs for
food security, a workable Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM), and on
addressing WTO constraints to development.
In a final statement issued following the conclusion of MC11 on Wednesday
(13 December), the CSOs, grouped under the Our World Is Not For Sale
(OWINFS) network, said that they are deeply disappointed that WTO
members once again missed a crucial opportunity to address fundamental
problems in the global trading system.
At the same time, however, they were relieved that the push by giant
technology corporations for an agenda to expand WTO rules over the
future digital economy failed to garner support from a majority of
The CSOs said that despite a mandate to find a permanent solution
for public stockholding at MC11, members failed to remove WTO constraints
on countries' ability to feed their hungry populations and improve
farmers' livelihoods; on a workable Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM);
and on disciplining (rich nation's) subsidies that distort trade and
damage farmers' livelihoods around the world.
Likewise, said the CSOs, members made no progress on the key issue
of addressing WTO constraints to development, having completely ignored
the G90's development proposals.
"Fortunately, given that there was no Ministerial Declaration,
previous affirmations of the development agenda still stand."
It is unfortunate that members were not able to agree to discipline
fish subsidies, but given that some members opposed preserving development
policy space in fisheries, it is better that members continue consultations
in Geneva, the CSOs pointed out.
Some 80 civil society representatives from 34 countries were in Buenos
Aires as part of the OWINFS network delegation, with several of them
providing some reactions at the end of MC11:
Jane Kelsey, Law Professor, University of Auckland, New Zealand: "Powerful
countries that became used to dominating the WTO have discovered that
they can no longer control the outcomes of ministerial conferences.
Rather than accept the reality that the majority of the world's countries
and people want the WTO to address their urgent development realities,
a self-selected group of mainly rich countries have clubbed together
to set up their own process. Doubtless they plan to bully developing
countries back in Geneva and at the next ministerial meeting. Doing
so will simply deepen the WTO's crisis of legitimacy."
Sachin Kumar Jain, Right to Food Campaign, India: "It is sad
that WTO members could not reach a permanent, acceptable, pro-people
solution on public stockholding. We were hoping that developed countries
would at least now give prominence to human lives over agribusiness
and profiteering food business."
Sylvester W. Bagooro, Third World Network-Africa, Ghana: "The
outcome of MC11 from Africa's perspective could be viewed in two ways.
On one breath Africa has not accepted any further onerous obligations
but also has not gotten anything from this Ministerial. So Africa
returns home empty handed. It is time for Africa to look within for
solutions to the Continent's problems judging from the posturing of
developed countries over the years."
Ruben Cortina, President of UNI Americas, UNI Global Union, representing
more than 20 million workers from over 900 trade unions in the fastest
growing sectors in the world - skills and services: "Again the
international system is at a crossroads: change the agenda to focus
on peoples' interests and multilateralism will begin to work; keep
it as it is now and no matter how many police you put in the streets
and how many civil society members you deport, things still won't
work. The international trade union movement is vital for a fair and
Dr. Christina J. Colclough, Director Platform & Agency Workers,
Digitalisation and Trade, UNI Global Union : "The Joint Statement
on E-commerce, signed by 42 countries plus the European Union, is
a far cry from the hopes of the countries who had aimed to create
a WTO 2.0 on e-commerce. The collapse is good news. We will push back
against any attempts to continue this agenda. Let's be clear: the
free flow of data does not equal the free and equal access to data.
It won't benefit you and I. What these e-commerce proponents were
pushing for would benefit Big Tech at the expense of all others and
not least workers."
Prerna Bomzan, Third World Network (TWN), Nepal: "We are once
again disappointed that least developed countries' (LDC) concerns
were ignored during the Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires. The
LDC package is long overdue and we continue to demand an immediate,
binding deliverable to enable the inclusion of the most marginalised
countries into international trade."
Georgios Altintzis, Trade Policy Officer, International Trade Union
Confederation, representing 181 million workers in 163 countries and
territories and with 340 national affiliates: "Inserting new
issues prematurely (into) the WTO has largely been avoided. The global
trade union movement remains vigilant on further developments, particularly
on e-commerce in non-multilateral settings."
Parminder Jeet Singh, IT for Change, India: "We are happy that
attempts by the US and its allies to bring e-commerce to the WTO as
a way of liberalising "everything" through the backdoor,
and ensuring entrenching of business models of GAFA (Google, Amazon,
Facebook, Apple) based on monetising our data, have failed.... Developing
countries must now focus on building their domestic digital industry,
through appropriate digital industrial policies. They should work
together on this, developing best practices."
Helene Bank, Norwegian Trade campaign, Norway: "Rich countries
have undermined the multilateral trading system by totally overloading
the WTO-agenda and never accommodating developing countries' needs.
We as civil society need policies that protect societies, welfare,
workers and human rights, ecosystems and common resources, NOT sell
out to big corporations. Our societies need international systems
that call for regulation of trade and the economy, NOT the WTO-push
for deregulation and undermine just rules."
Nick Dearden, Global Justice Now, United Kingdom: "The collapse
of the WTO ministerial was "the best outcome possible" given
the position of rich countries at this week's summit. We criticize
the continued intransigence of rich countries like Britain who have
no interest in solving the fundamental injustice of current WTO rules,
and instead want to turn the whole world into a corporate playground."
Timothy A. Wise, Researcher, Small Planet Institute and Tufts University,
USA: "Intransigence by the United States has again prevented
the WTO from taking steps to allow developing countries to protect
their farmers from unfair trade practices such as dumping. Public
stockholding for food security should be allowed without interference,
to protect farmers from dumping and to feed the hungry."
Nabil Abdo, Arab NGO Network for Development, with members and partners
in 12 Arab countries. "The WTO failed again to deliver on development,
and put the needs of people, farmers, workers, and vulnerable people
at the center of its concerns. The MC11 failed due to the insistence
of some powerful developed countries to prioritize corporate profit
and tech giants over food security and sovereignty, the ability to
design national policies, and most importantly the interests of people."
Petter Titland, ATTAC Norway, Norway: "The TISA-countries are
pushing the agenda of the big data extraction firms like Google, Facebook
and Amazon without a public debate about the future of our economy
and digital industrial policy. Nigeria is the only African country
supporting negotiations on e-commerce in the WTO. All the other African
countries want to develop their own digital industrial policy, and
we must support them."
Sophia Murphy, Senior Advisor, Institute for Agriculture and Trade
Policy, Canada: "The multilateral system can only work on the
basis of trust and compromise. By refusing to meet any country part
way in Buenos Aires, the Trump Administration has squandered an opportunity
for Americans to be part of building a trade system that starts to
tackle the real challenges of the 21st century: inequality and the
fragility of our planet's resources."
Maruf Barkat, COAST Trust, Bangladesh: "Our analysis of the proposals
and their progress in the WTO's MC11 is that true "development"
has been ignored. The proposed e-commerce rules will not help MSMEs
even though MSMEs are a commonly cited justification for the proposed
e-commerce rules. MSMEs need WTO Members to agree to the G90 special
and differential treatment proposal. The proposed MSME work program
would limit the policy space to help MSMEs."
In their final statement at end of MC11, the OWINFS network welcomed
that the majority of members saw clear that it is far too premature
for the WTO to begin negotiations on the digital economy, and simply
reaffirmed the existing working program for discussions on e-commerce.
Likewise, the majority of countries agreed that countries' sovereign
right to regulate in the public interest should not be further limited
by the WTO, and that "domestic regulation" disciplines are
not necessary, and thus no new rules on "domestic regulation"
Likewise, most members realize that new negotiations on investment
facilitation are unwarranted, and decided against a new mandate on
Other issues like micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs)
and "gender and trade" are Trojan Horses for sneaking in
"new issues" like e-commerce, and represent the wrong agenda
of further benefits for corporations at the expense of jobs and development.
The CSOs noted that a declaration against the appropriation of gender
to further liberalization was signed by over 164 groups in 24 hours
Likewise, myriad MSME associations raised objections to the e-commerce
agenda and against the so-called "MSME work programme" that
is against their interests.
"Despite many of our representatives from civil society having
been unjustly, and without due process, banned from participating,
those of us who were allowed in have raised our voices about the negative
impacts of existing WTO policies on workers, farmers, the environment,
development, and the public interest, calling for fundamental transformations
to the existing trade system."
"We believe in a democratic, transparent, and sustainable multilateral
trading system, and do not want to see the WTO depart even further
from that ideal, and will continue our call on governments not to
expand the failed model of the WTO to new issues," the CSOs underscored.
According to the CSOs, it seems that the United States came to Buenos
Aires with an agenda of rejecting the consideration of development
concerns in trade. The US attempted to bully its way into shaping
an outcome in its interests, but the majority of developing countries
- having faced the brunt of negative WTO policies for so many years
- resisted this pressure.
"We are just as disappointed at the EU, since it failed to play
a constructive role at the Ministerial. While claiming to build consensus,
it stuck with a discredited approach of expansion of WTO trade rules,
deregulation, increasing market access, while refusing to repair the
existing WTO rules which are harmful to developing countries."
The CSOs recognized the leadership of the African Group, India, the
ALBA group of Latin American countries, and other countries in defending
that multilateral trade policy should foster, rather than constrain,
No matter the outcome, the WTO as an institution continues to exist
and continues to have rules that are detrimental to developing countries,
workers, farmers, the environment, and the public interest generally.
"These rules need to be fundamentally transformed as we have
outlined in the Turnaround Agenda, endorsed by hundreds of civil society
organizations from around the world, which is similar to the objectives
of the developmental aspects of the Doha Development Round,"
said the CSOs.
The Dispute Settlement mechanism will continue to enforce asymmetrical
rules against developing countries and public interest regulations.
Moreover, its effectiveness depends on the complaining country's ability
to retaliate, making it useful for powerful countries but less so
for developing countries.
With or without agreements at MC11, the new paradigm of plurilaterals
and the continuation of bilaterals are used by neo-liberal trade negotiators
in different countries to impose their agenda of further expanding
trade and investment rules.
Such new trade rules further restrict the ability of countries to
pursue public policy objectives such as the promotion of health, education,
and employment, as well as the protection of the environment and labour
"We support the conclusion of the development aspects of the
Doha Development Round, but we oppose the expansion of liberalization
trade rules - be they though bilaterals or plurilaterals or multilaterally
in the WTO," the CSOs underlined.
They applauded the majority of developing countries at MC11 who have
held firm against massive pressure, led by Japan, Australia and Singapore,
to launch negotiations on electronic commerce in the WTO.
A series of proposals on e-commerce tabled since mid-2016, initially
by the US and then pursued by Japan and the EU, were designed for,
and largely by, the Big Tech companies.
The CSOs noted that a Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce issued
late morning of the final day of the conference was supported by a
minority of the 164 WTO Members.
The Members plan to hold "exploratory work towards future WTO
negotiations", even though there is no mandate from the Ministerial
Conference to take e-commerce any further than the "discussions"
that are currently authorised.
"We see this electronic commerce statement as a repeat of the
tactics used in the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). A self-selected
group of countries took it upon themselves to rewrite the trade in
services rules of the WTO in ways that intrude deeply on nations'
right to regulate and without any development dimension. TiSA had
no WTO mandate and in theory was conducted outside the WTO, but the
Secretariat was complicit by facilitating its meetings. The same must
not happen with e-commerce."
The statement seems carefully to avoid the word plurilateral, presumably
to play to Trump sensitivities, but the United States is on the list
of participants, the CSOs pointed out.
"It is not clear why electronically transmitted products should
not contribute to the tax base while products that are traded through
traditional mechanisms usually do. However, it is a positive outcome
that the moratorium on TRIPS non-violation complaints, which is essential
to ensure lifesaving medicines for millions of people, was approved,
although it should have been approved on a permanent basis."
Existing investment rules have given new rights to corporations to
profit in countries while putting taxpayers on the hook for millions
in payouts for upholding public interest regulations. Even if the
proposals focus on investment facilitation (IF), this is not a trade
issue per se, and UNCTAD is already the primary multilateral agency
working on investment.
"No new work program on IF is a positive outcome of MC11,"
the CSOs said.
They also noted that the SDGs agreed by all WTO members include a
focus on expanding access to and quality of many public services,
as well as other key services like financial services and telecommunications.
The proposed rules on Domestic Regulation would severely undermine
the regulatory sovereignty of countries.
Governments - not trade panels - should have the authority to decide
community issues that are inherently subjective. Foreign companies
should not have "rights" to input on measures proposed by
local or national authorities before they are decided domestically.
Members have not yet agreed whether disciplines on these measures
"No disciplines on domestic regulation is a positive outcome
for MC11," the CSOs said.
There is a clear mandate for a pro-development and pro-environment
outcome on disciplining fishing subsidies. But existing industrial
fishing nations are insisting on rules that would undermine the future
developmental aspirations of developing countries and harm existing
artisanal fisher-folks' livelihoods.
"The developmental and economic policy space of developing countries
must be maintained whilst those nations that have contributed most
to the problem of IUU and overfishing must agree to eliminate harmful
subsidies. Since policy space for development was not protected, it
is better that members agreed to continue negotiations on fish."
WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE AGENDA
According to the CSO statement, there remains an urgent need to transform
existing WTO rules which are constraining policy space for job creation
and development, including achievement of the Sustainable Development
"The Doha Work Programme on development must be concluded as
soon as possible, rather than permanently shelved in favour of a big
business agenda of WTO expansion."
Agriculture rules in the WTO must be transformed. A permanent solution
for public stockholding that is workable for all developing countries,
and a workable Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) should have been
agreed as the top priority of MC11, said the CSOs.
Current inappropriate proposals on agricultural subsidies fail to
take into account the huge dumping impact of domestic subsidies on
exported products while calling on developing countries to cut subsidies.
The top priority for a genuine development agenda would be transforming
the current rules on agriculture. Rich countries, not the poor, are
currently allowed to subsidize agriculture under WTO rules - even
in ways that distort trade and harm other countries' domestic producers.
It is unfortunate that members did not agree to reduce the subsidies
of developed countries under "domestic support" - including
in the "Green Box" category of subsidies when these actually
have trade-distorting impacts.
Subsidies that the US and the EU provide to cotton producers enrich
a few thousand there, but have unfairly decimated production of hundreds
of thousands of cotton farmers in Africa.
"It is deeply disappointing that members did not decide to significantly
reduce or eliminate developed countries' domestic supports for cotton
Given the existing subsidies, developing countries should also be
able to protect domestic production when facing import surges. An
outcome on SSM - unconditioned on further tariff cuts - would have
greatly enhanced developing countries' ability to achieve food security,
promote rural development and farmers' livelihoods.
By contrast, most developing countries are only allowed miniscule
subsidies. But the SDGs entreat countries to increase investment in
sustainable agriculture. Also, there is growing acceptance of the
"right to food" as a human right. One of the international
best practices for supporting farmers' livelihoods, ensuring food
security, and promoting rural development is "public stockholding."
But these programs - in dozens of developing countries - often run
afoul of WTO rules - even though the agriculture supported is not
traded in global markets.
The CSOs noted that supports by China and India to farmers on a per
capita basis remain miniscule - only a few hundred dollars per farmer,
as compared to tens of thousands for the United States. Supports in
African and many Middle Eastern countries and LDCs should be increased
even if they don't have existing programs.
"Members had a commitment to deliver a positive resolution on
the public stockholding issue that would have allowed all developing
countries to implement food security programs without onerous restrictions
that are not demanded of developed countries' trade distorting subsidies,
and it is deeply disappointing that they did not resolve this issue,"
Along with transforming the global rules governing agricultural trade,
developing countries have long advocated for other changes to the
existing WTO to increase flexibility for them to enable them to enact
policies that would promote their own development.
The G90 proposals for changes to existing WTO rules would remove some
WTO constraints on national pro-development policies. These would
allow developing countries to promote manufacturing capabilities,
stimulate the transfer of technology, promote access to affordable
medicines, and safeguard regional integration.
"It is deeply disappointing that the G90 proposals, without being
conditioned on further market access concessions, and the Para 44
mandate to continue post-MC11, were not agreed at MC11."
The CSOs called on Members to return to Geneva to reaffirm multilateralism,
and fundamentally transform the existing trading system - along the
lines of the Turnaround Agenda endorsed by CSOs around the world -
so that it can be an engine for development and shared prosperity
rather than a platform for expansion of a big business agenda.