In the 26 years of its existence, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its neoliberal framework in trade has destroyed people’s lives, livelihoods, and the environment.
The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference on November 30 until December 3, 2021 in Switzerland will be happening in the context of a world economy shaken by major economic contraction due to the COVID19 pandemic. The current and post-pandemic trade recovery proposed by WTO remains in the service of superprofits and corporate agenda.
WTO forced poor and developing countries to open their economies to foreign goods and capital through international treaties such as the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) and Agreement on Agriculture (AoA). Its imposition of tariff cuts and removal of trade barriers brought about the destruction of national economies and productive forces, including local industries and agriculture.
The Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), which covers domestic regulation on foreign investment, resulted in race-to-the-bottom wages and deteriorating labor standards for workers. These measures aimed to abolish any restriction on foreign investors paving the way for greater expansion of extractive industries and corporate plantations. This has meant further plunder and destruction of natural habitats and resources upon which indigenous peoples and the rural poor depend on for their livelihoods and culture.
People’s health over profit
The global health crisis has also further exposed the gruesome impacts and tragedy of WTO’s neoliberal agenda. Greater inaccessibility to healthcare and medicines due to privatization has resulted in millions of deaths worldwide.
Even before the pandemic, millions have already died in the Global South due to deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS, and Malaria. WTO remains to be one of the biggest impediments in democratizing life-saving medicines and therapies. Its Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) have ensured the extraction of superprofits through drug patents and monopoly on the industry. The agreement continues to serve the interest of big pharmaceuticals, transnational Corporations (TNCs) and their imperialist hosts at the expense of our health and lives.
To be tabled in this year’s ministerial conference is the call of more than 100 countries to waive TRIPS on COVID-19 vaccines and other related medical therapeutics. With Big Pharmas inhumanely opposing the TRIPS waiver, WTO is expected to let corporate power prevail. In contrast, health workers with the people’s movements have been clear that TRIPS is a barrier to vaccine accessibility and have called for the WTO to drop the patents and scrap TRIPS.
People’s livelihood over profit
Meanwhile, WTO’s twenty-year negotiation on the harmful fisheries subsidies has only served to stall any meaningful reform that can benefit fisherfolks and the fisheries sector. Worse, it has become a cover up for continued plunder of marine resources by oceangrabbers and giants in the fishing industry.
Despite WTO’s apparent policy of allocating the majority of subsidies to corporate fishing, it has hypocritically claimed to advocate for ocean conservation and equal opportunity. In fact, more than 80% of subsidies today go to large export-oriented fleets which left millions of small-scale fisherfolk and fishworkers wanting, poor and neglected.
Likewise, WTO’s push for “logistics resiliency” through automation (e-commerce) and digitalization is packaged as a solution to the global food crisis, when these only enforce the corporate control of food systems. The same goes for the continued demonization of public stockholdings, among other slated reforms to the already damaging Agreements on Agriculture, amid record-high food prices and global hunger worldwide.
Contrary to the WTO, people’s movements assert that global fisheries and food systems are not merely an issue of trade but one of people’s rights, ecosystems, food sovereignty, and genuine development.
This time, the WTO is forcing text-based negotiations despite numerous unresolved issues in equity and transparency. With WTO’s track record in favoring corporate agenda it is bound to result in business-as-usual provisions harming the oceans and the rural poor even more, especially small-scale fishers.
From Seattle to Geneva: Junk WTO
With its long history of anti-people trade policies, WTO remains a stumbling block for poor and developing nations to achieve genuine economic development, independence, and prosperity. The institution, from its inception, has been a platform for imperialists, TNCs and financial institutions to forward their corporate agenda in lieu of people’s welfare.
For decades, farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, women, youth and all other marginalized and oppressed sectors opposed and resisted WTO’s trade rules and conditionalities. As it continues to wreak havoc on people’s lives and livelihoods in the global South, discontent has grown to greater and wider resistance. Every WTO ministerial conference was met with massive protest actions by people’s organizations and social movements from Seattle (1999) to Cancun (2003), Hongkong (2005), Bali (2013), Buenos Aires (2017) and now Geneva.
Fight for a future without WTO
WTO now promises a “recovery” process that promotes further liberalization and deregulation of trade and commerce which are the very tenets of neoliberalism that brought us to this crisis to begin with. This global regime on trade has ravaged and destroyed lives and livelihoods, violated our basic rights, and has irreversibly damaged the environment and the planet. It has already failed the people of the world therefore it has no integrity to tell us how to recover and build a better world.
We have to oppose the policies to be railroaded in the 12th Ministerial Conference which will seek to take greater control of the trade system and economy in the face of a pandemic.
We reject the current negotiations on global fisheries subsidies and call for a people-powered and sustainable fisheries and aquatic resource development paradigm. And, there is no better time to demand for the scrapping of TRIPS and advance free healthcare for the people than now. We will further unite and continue our call to junk WTO, reject its neoliberal agenda and build a bright future without WTO and other exploitative free trade agreements.
We need to establish a new global trade order under the United Nations promoting people’s trade and development that will make it equitable and equal among countries and people. A global trade that promotes lives and livelihood and protects the environment, replacing WTO which remains under control by the TNCs and economic elite.
We call on people’s organizations, CSOs and social movements to join us in the coming days to mount activities and protests as part of the global actions versus WTO. Let us hold high the banner of people’s resistance against imperialism and fight for our health, livelihood and future.
- Don’t Waver on the Waiver! Drop the Patents! Scrap TRIPS! People’s Health Over Patents and Profit!
- People over profit! Fight for the rights, lives and livelihoods of farmers, workers, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples, women, urban poor, youth and migrants
- WTO out of fisheries! End the global plunder of our seas!
- Resist neoliberal trade! Fight imperialist globalization! Junk WTO!
Sign our unity statement: Assert Peoples’ Trade Agenda! Dismantle the WTO!
Initiated by the People Over Profit network, of which the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty is part of, the statement calls for an end to the WTO and all free trade agreements and the establishment of a new global trade order consistent in promoting the peoples economic agenda, and trade equality among nations and peoples.
Sign here: bit.ly/DismantleWTO
This campaign is jointly organized by the People Over Profit (POP), International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS), People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty (PCFS), International Indigenous People’s Movement Struggle for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), Asia-Pacific Research Network (APRN), and IBON International. ###