As 80 civil society representatives from over 30 countries here with the global Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network, we are deeply disappointed that WTO members once again missed a crucial opportunity to address fundamental problems in the global trading system, and at the same time relieved that the push by giant technology corporations for an agenda to expand WTO rules over the future digital economy failed to garner support by a majority of members.
Despite a mandate to find a permanent solution for public stockholding 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 subsidies that distort trade and damage farmers’ livelihoods around the world. Likewise, they made no progress on the key issue of addressing WTO constraints to development, having completely ignored the G90 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.
At the same time, we welcome 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” were agreed. Likewise, most members realize that new negotiations on investment facilitation are unwarranted, and decided against a new mandate on this issue.
Other issues like micro- and 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. A declaration against the appropriation of gender to further liberalization was signed by over 164 groups in 24 hours this week. 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.
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. We recognize 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, development prospects.
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. 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 the 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 labor rights. 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.