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International "Seattle Coalition" of Civil Society Groups Launch WTO Turnaround Campaign

International "Seattle Coalition" of Civil Society Groups Launch WTO Turnaround Campaign


The international "Seattle coalition" of civil society groups are launching a new global campaign to demand transformational changes to the international trade system and the corporate economic globalization that it is fueling. We are seeking to restore checks and balances among the international institutions and rules that are shaping the version of globalization we now face - one that serves special interests at the expense of the public interest. Currently, the pro-corporate dictates of the so-called "Bretton Woods" institutions (World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and World Bank) simply trump the pro-people rules of existing international labor, environmental, human rights, health and other public interest standards.

After accomplishing the first half of its Seattle agenda of "WTO: No New Round, Turnaround," the Seattle coalition is launching a new initiative to turn around the WTO's corporate managed trade rules so as to fight for a better set of comprehensive global rules that balance the public interest with commercial interests. To get this balance right, some of the existing rules and institutions need to be curbed, while others need to be bolstered. Our own system of government is based on such checks and balances, ensuring that no one special interest or branch of government is able to impose its will against the interests of the majority.

The fact is that there already is broad international agreement on the substance of labor, environmental, health and human rights rules. The WTO must be cut back so that these already-agreed public interest standards can serve as a floor of conduct that no corporation can violate if it wants the benefits of global trade rules and market access. For instance, the International Labor Organization has core labor standards. There are over 300 multilateral environmental agreements on issues from toxics to air and water pollution to biodiversity and waste dumping .The World Health Organization conventions and the UN Charter on Human Rights provide many guarantees regarding access to medicine and food security. But, the WTO's backwards terms TRUMP all of these good international rules.

What we want is for countries to be free to prioritize these other values and goals. And, as long as a country treats domestic and foreign goods and investors the same, its up to the country to decide the values it seeks for its domestic policies. So, if the U.S. bans child labor here then it must have the right to also forbid imported products with child labor. If India decides that it wants to prioritize the World Health Organization treaty on access to essential medicines above the WTO's intellectual property rules to ensure lifesaving drugs are available, so be it - as long as it treats foreign forms the same way it treats its domestic firms.

This is a campaign about what we are FOR. We are a global movement for democracy and diversity. We believe that the people living with the results must make the decisions important to their lives and families. Inherently, this means that there will be differences in priorities and choices depending on the local values and cultures of different people and the level of development of their country. Yet, corporate globalization attempts to force us all worldwide to accept the same subjective, value-based priorities and policies. We are for internationalism - where different cultures, countries and people trade and exchange goods and ideas and work together towards common goals- not for corporate economic globalization which imposes a one-size-fits-all model of economic and social policy worldwide.

This new campaign demands 11 transformational changes from the WTO. The strategy is quite straight forward: the WTO is like a crazed pro-corporate, anti-environment, anti-worker octopus hiding under the name of "free trade." The WTO has its many damaging arms prying into our domestic food safety, worker, environmental, and health safeguards and imposing on us and the whole world one-size-fits all dictates on how our economy, social services, taxes and more should be shaped. If the legitimate international trade rules - setting tariff levels for instance - are to be saved from the excesses of the WTO, then the WTO's excesses must be cut back.

Either the WTO will be forced to bend, or the WTO will be broken. We must separate the traditional trade principles that are appropriate for an international commercial regime from the WTO's new social and worker policy impositions. For instance, we must restore the right to decide for ourselves how much food safety protection we want or if we want to keep child labor products out of our market. As long as we enforce these values equally on domestic and foreign goods, there is no real trade issue. But, under current WTO rules, setting strong food safety standards or banning child labor products are declared to be illegal trade barriers. We must cut out these rules through which the WTO steps out of the trade bounds and tries to force us to change our values and policies to better suit big corporations. Unless we cut back WTO, it will unacceptably override our democracy and smother the diversity and differences in our world.

What sorts of changes are we demanding:

  • Certain things should simply be kept outside of global commercial rules: WTO commodifies and provides for trade in everything from our essential social services to our very human genetic material. If a country decides it is against its morals or religion to patent life forms, then who is the WTO to override those values?
  • Now the WTO trumps all other international agreements. This must be reversed be adding a "savings clause" which makes clear that the International Labor Organization core labor standards, the Multilateral Environmental Agreements, the World Health Organization's treaties, for instance on access to essential medicines, and other internationally agreed public interest standards take precedent over WTO terms.
  • The WTO must allow countries to set their own level of food safety and environmental protection.

Over 1000 citizen, labor, consumer, environmental, religious, women' s, development groups from 77 countries have signed on to the new campaign. The Turnaround Agenda espoused in the "WTO: Shrink or Sink" statement demands 11 fundamental changes to WTO's procedures and substantive rules. It was developed by hundreds of NGOs from many countries.

This approach is doable - if there is political will. Instead of adding new, controversial items to the WTO, we call for the WTO's most extreme excesses to be cut back. Despite six years of campaigning by the international labor movement, there has been fierce opposition by many developing country governments to adding labor and other standards to the WTO. With powerful China - a strong foe of labor standards in WTO - entering the WTO imminently, any hope for the previous approach is lost. In addition, the international environmental and consumer movements have not favored the "social charter" approach. They argue that it is unwise to concentrate too much power in any one institution and especially in one like WTO whose only purpose is to remove all "barriers" to commerce. Many citizens movements in the rich and poor countries could work together on this approach.

The WTO's establishment dramatically expanded the issues covered by international commercial rules to include domestic policy on food and product safety, environmental protection, human rights and government procurement. As a result, the WTO undermines nations' control of value-based decisions and the ability to set development and economic priorities and the level of health and environmental protection. It is this effective shift of decision-making on non-trade matters away from democratically-elected domestic bodies to the WTO that fuels the opposition.

"The WTO imposes a one size fits all policy favored by corporations. It is essential to use this moment as an opportunity to change course and develop an alternative, humane, democratically accountable and sustainable system of commerce that benefits all," the agenda states. "This process entails rolling back the power and authority of the WTO.

The WTO: "Shrink or Sink" coalition demands that their governments successfully push for 11 fundamental changes to the WTO.

  • Prioritize International Agreements on Labor & Social Rights and the Environment
  • No WTO Expansion into new areas like investment, competition, government procurement, biotechnology or tariff liberalization;
  • Protect Basic Social Rights and Needs by removing WTO constraints on policies critical to human or planetary welfare, such as WTO rules on constraining even non-discriminating government action concerning public access to food, water, social services and regarding health and safety and animal protection;
  • Protect Basic Social Services by excluding health, education, energy and other basic services from international free trade rules;
  • Restore National Patent Protection by removing inappropriate corporate protection such as the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement from the WTO;
  • No Patents on Life, meaning WTO rules allowing patents of human cells, seeds, animal and plant varieties must be eliminated;
  • Food is a Basic Human Right that should exempt measures to promote and protect food security and sovereignty, subsistence farming, humane farming and sustainable agriculture from international free trade rules;
  • No Forced Investment Liberalization or Speculation Enforcement by eliminating the Trade Related Investment Measures Agreement from the WTO to ensure policy options such as local content rules that allow increases in local capacity of productive sectors;
  • Fair Trade: Special and Differential Treatment rights for developing countries must be recognized, expanded, and put into operation in the world trading system;
  • Democratize Decision-Making by requiring the decision-making process in international commercial bodies be democratic, transparent and inclusive; and
  • Dispute the Dispute Settlement System of WTO that enforces an illegitimate system of unfair rules using undemocratic procedures. Transformation of WTO requires more than transparency: The substantive rules and enforcement system also must be changed.

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