Global demonstration planned; Unfair trade regime only benefit the rich

By Shahidul Islam, The New Nation (Bangladesh), 7 September 2003, 04:22

Major cities of the world, including Dhaka will witness massive demonstrations on September 13 when millions of people will take to the streets in a global protest to drum up support for economic and legal protection for the least developed countries in a highly competitive world economy after December 31, 2004.

The demonstrations will be held marking the WTO Ministerial meeting scheduled from September 10 to 15 at Cancun in Mexico, where representatives of the least developed countries (LDCs) will engage in a tough bargaining with their counterparts from the developed countries (DCs) or high income countries to ensure interests of the poorest nations of the world.

The demands of the LDCs includes the relaxation of Rules of Origin in the EU countries under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) and continuation of preferential treatment of products of LDCs in the high income countries including USA and Japan, rights for free flow of natural persons (labour) to the DCs, withdrawal of agricultural subsidy in DCs and protection of rights of the LDCs under the intellectual property rights acts beyond January 1, 2005 when the new global (free) trade regime will come into effect.

The issue is so crucial for a country like Bangladesh, which Ready made is the leader of the 59-nations LDC forum, that export earning from its garment sector would shoot up to eight billion US dollars from the present five billion US dollar by 2008 if the LDC demands are realised. Otherwise, its export earning in the RMG sector will nosedive to a mere three billion US dollar, according to a study conducted by the government and other private research body.

The Cancun Ministerial is scheduled to finalise the World Trade Organisation's (WTO's) global (free) trade regime which is apprehended by the LDCs to be highly tilted towards the DCs or high income countries. The WTO will monitor the global trade regime from January 1, 2005. The existing global trade is also dominated by the high income countries (DCs), who account for 78 per cent of global GDP (gross domestic product) with only 14 per cent of population against the 59 LDC's share of only 3 per cent of GDP with 80 per cent of global population. The developing (newly industrialised-mid income) countries shares 22 per cent of GDP with only 6 per cent of the global population.

Prof Dr Abul Barkat, General Secretary of Bangladesh Economic Association disclosed this while talking to this correspondent. The LDCs and mid-income countries, who will also face uneven completion with the DCs after December 31, 2004, together account for 25 per cent of the global GDP with 86 per cent of global population.

The OXFAM International also released similar figures of global trade from its London headquarters last week. The international voluntary organisation termed the present global trade as “unfair trade,” due to which, it says, about 1300 million people have been currently languishing inhuman life in abject poverty in the LDCs and developing countries.

“Under the present global system, one US dollar debt relief means two US dollars of theft (loss) from the LDCs,” the OXFAM document said, adding that mere one per cent increase of trade in favour of the LDCs will be equal to four times of aid they received in a year.

The global trade situation will worsen for LDCs after December 31, 2004 if there is no preferential system of treatment for their products and man-power in the market of the DCs, Prof Barkat warned.

If the preferential system of treatment is achieved, situation for Bangladesh will considerably improve wherein the export earning of RMG sector alone is expected to shoot up to seven to eight billion US dollar a year by 2008 from its present level of five billion US dollar, a highly placed source in the Ministry of Commerce told The New Nation on yesterday.

On the contrary the present earning by RMG, which account for over 76 per cent of forex income, to the tune of five billion US dollar will give nosedive to mere three billion US dollar after the withdrawal of MFA and GSP. It will have a catastrophic impact on the country's employment situation since about 1.2 million factory workers, over 90 per cent of whom are women, will be thrown out of job, the source said.

Besides, Bangladesh will also be exposed to uneven competition in its home market and outside with the mid-income (newly industrialised) and high-income (developed) countries following the withdrawal of tariff barrier on their high quality products, the official said preferring anonymity.

Of the LDCs, who have no bilateral trade agreements with the USA, Japan and the EU countries for preferential treatment, will face similar fate despite the increased global trade, the study said. The global clothing (RMG) exports are expected to increase from 199 billion (of 2000 fiscal year) US dollar to some 350 billion US dollar in 2005-06 (fiscal year), it added.

In Cancun Ministerial, officials and NGO representatives from the LDCs will join hands together to achieve their goals.

A 17-member official delegation of Bangladesh led by Commerce Minister Amir Khashru Mahmud Chowdhury, who is also the spokesman of the LDCs, will participate in the Cancun WTO Ministerial. Besides, representatives of some research organisations, trade unions and NGOs will go to Cancun to attend a NGO forum, which will be organised to plead the case of the LDCs, informed sources said.

It may be mentioned here that Bangladesh hosted the LDC Ministerial in Dhaka on April 30 and May 1 this year which adopted a consensus document titled as “Dhaka Declaration” that stipulated the issues to protect the interests of the least developed countries.

Meanwhile, Make Trade Fair Alliance, an apex body of a number of organisations, including research bodies, trade unions and non-government organisations handed over one million mass appeals signed by an equal number of individuals to the Bangladesh Commerce Minister on Thursday for onward submission to the Cancun met.

To drum up support for the demands of the LDCs different organisations have been preparing to have their showdown in Dhaka. The Make Trade Fair Alliance will organise a rally and cultural programme on September 9 at Dhanmondi, UBINIG will hold a exchange of opinions meeting on different stakeholders and concerned citizens on September 7, Garment Workers Employees Unity Council will hold a rally and a procession on September 10 and Bangladesh Economic Association will hold a rally and procession of September 13.

The organisers of the September 13 demonstration are trying to coordinate among all the programmes, organisations and political parties so that the city turns into to a metropolis of mass demonstration as they had done on April 11 anti-war rallies and procession.

About 2,00,000 people from all walks of life will took to the streets of Dhaka on April 11 and joined hands with millions others across the world in a global protest. All political parties, including the ruling BNP and the main opposition Awami League (AL), all the factions of Jatiya Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, the left leaning 11-party alliance, Islamic Shashantantra Andolan, Islami Oikya Jote as well as professional groups-teachers, students, lawyers, journalists, workers, doctors, artists and development activists-simultaneously joined that programme, the first of its sort participated by all sheds of opinions, the organisers recalled.