Civil society asks WTO chief to act as ‘impartial facilitator’ in trade negotiations

Developed countries attempting impose deeper tariff cuts and aggressive liberalisation to access markets in developing countries, says letter to Roberto Azevêdo

By Jitendra
Published: Tuesday 20 January 2015

Roberto Azevêdo was in India to attend an industry summit World Trade Organization director-general Roberto Azevêdo, who is currently visiting India, was handed a letter by civil society group, Forum Against FTAs. The letter has accused WTO’s secretariat and media department of working against developing countries and silencing dissenting voices.

The letter also questions Azevêdo for ignoring the concerns of developing countries even though he was voted in as director-general of WTO from a developing country (Brazil).
G Manicandan, convener of Forum Against FTAs (Free Trade Agreements), claims that as DG of WTO, Azevêdo was not impartial.

“Civil society has underlined that the WTO secretariat and its media arm have been deliberately working against the dissenting voices of the member states. Underlining the historical imbalances in the WTO negotiations, the letter called upon the Director-General, according to the mandate, to be impartial facilitator of WTO negotiations,” said Manicandan.

The letter, dated January 16, raises deep concern over historical imbalances in WTO negotiations and points out how negotiations were aggressively persuaded in favour of developed countries which was at the cost of the interests of least developing countries.

The letter points out how the Bali Agreement of 2013  was maneuvered to serve commercial interest of the developed countries.

“The recent Bali Agreement and the subsequent negotiations definitely indicate a revival of the WTO but not in a development-friendly manner,” says the letter.

“It has yielded a permanent passage to the Trade Facilitation Agreement [to ease worldwide customs rules], which furthers only the commercial interests of the developed countries, while allowing only a flimsy and condition-ridden ‘Peace Clause’ on the G-33 proposal on food security [to allow stockpiling of food for public food programmes]. As of now, the genuine concerns underlying the G-33 [block of 46 WTO nations with sizeable poor populations] proposal that face poor farmers and food consumers across the developing world today remain unaddressed. Further, we do not see any effort to redress the grossly unfair Rules of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), especially those pertaining to developed country subsidies……” states the letter (see Fighting a flawed WTO regime’).

Biraj Patnaik, a Delhi-based food rights activist thinks developed countries are displaying lack of commitment to address the concern of the developing countries. “This has only been a continuum of the earlier power politics of the WTO. On the one hand developed countries have so far not offered concrete or visible commitments to address the genuine concerns of developing countries for developmental outcomes in the areas of agriculture, non-agriculture goods market access (NAMA) negotiations and in services” says Patnaik.

The letter states that after the Bali negotiations, developed countries have been attempting aggressive liberalisation and deep tariff cut in these areas.

“The post Bali negotiations in these areas are attempting to inflict deeper and broader tariff cuts and aggressive liberalisation on developing countries to access market, undermining the rights to development and threatening employment, incomes and well being of the people at large across the global South,” states letter.

Azevêdo’s changing stand

The letter also sees a conflict in the Azevêdo’s when he was WTO ambassador from Brazil and after he was voted in as DG of WTO.

The letter states: “…..In this backdrop, we are deeply disappointed and increasingly concerned about your role as the Director-General of the WTO. In your earlier tenure as the WTO Ambassador from Brazil, you had argued for protecting the policy space of developing countries. However, your approach and stance as the Director-General of the WTO seemed to be in direct conflict with that position and in tandem with the line of developed countries. You were voted in from a developing country and had raised expectations that you will honestly work towards delivering the development mandate of the Doha Round and address North-South imbalances at the WTO. One and a half years down the line, the reality is quite the opposite….”

The civil society group also showed concern over increasing number of close-door meetings with developed member countries.

“We are also worried about the DG increasingly using closed door meetings with rich Member States to force dissenting developing countries to compromise on their development priorities,” says Patnaik.

The letter also makes humble appeal to Azevêdo to revisit his stand and help millions of people who are struggling to eke out his living and support their families.

“….On your visit to our country we urge you to see how the Indian people, like their brothers and sisters in Brazil, struggle everyday to eke out a living and support their families. We hope this will encourage you revisit your recent approach in WTO negotiations and fully support developing countries and LDC's call for genuine development outcomes…” states the letter.

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