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Date: Fri, 10 Sep 1999 23:30:54 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: TRADE-AFRICA: Civil Society Rejects Attempts To Expand WTO Powers
Article: 75707
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.2456.19990911151604@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 416.0 **/
** Topic: TRADE-AFRICA: Civil Society Rejects Attempts To Expand WTO Powers **
** Written 9:07 PM Sep 9, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Civil Society Rejects Attempts To Expand WTO Powers

By Lewis Machipisa, IPS
9 September 1999

ACCRA, Sep 9 (IPS) - A group of civil society in Africa has rejected attempts to expand the powers of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and has called for a review of the existing agreements and an assessment of the world trade body.

At the meeting of the African Trade Network (ATN), a grouping of trade unions, social movements, citizen groups and Non- Governmental Organisations from across the continent, the ATN rejected any further liberalisation negotiations especially those relating to investment, competition policy and government procurement.

The meeting, held in Accra, Ghana, comes as trade ministers from ~134 countries prepare to meet in Seattle, U.S., from November to December for the Third WTO Ministerial Conference since the body was establishment in 1995.

In a joint declaration released after the four-day meeting which ended at the weekend in Accra, the ATN suggested that the controversial concept of competition policy and law, being advocated by the WTO, should not be subjected to WTO disciplines.

ATN, which is also opposed to further cuts in tariffs, says African countries have already suffered enough, having reduced tariffs, especially under structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), which has led to closure of enterprises and de-industrialisation.

"The WTO should not be used to lock in and further reduce industrial tariffs in Africa and the South. We, thus, reject another round of industrial tariff cuts. Instead the North should cut its tariff peaks in products exported by the South," says a statement by the coalition.

The ATN has, however, welcomed moves towards transparency in government procurement, but called on developing countries to make sure that elements on transparency should all be in the nature of guidelines and binding obligations, particularly for Africa.

"The word NEW should never occur in the upcoming meeting. We should insist on a review process, how the process has been over the past 5 years," says Yash Tandon, director of the International South Group Network (ISGN), who participated at the Accra meeting. More than 30 participants attended the meeting.

The meeting was organised by the Accra-based Third World Network Africa (TWN-Af) Secretariat to discuss the implications of the proposed new round of negotiations for Africa at the WTO Ministerial meeting in Seattle.

Over the past five years, according to the ATN, the WTO regime has been used to contribute to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich few, increasing poverty and indebtedness for the majority of the world's population, and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.

According to the group, the WTO and its agreements have been used to prise open developing country markets for the benefit of transnational corporations with adverse effects on national economies, workers, farmers, women and the environment in Africa.

Governments, which dominate the WTO, and Transnational Corporations which have benefited from the WTO system, have, the group says, refused to recognise and address the problems affecting poor countries. Instead they are pushing, the ATN says, for further liberalisation through the introduction of new issues for adoption in the WTO.

The ATN also dismissed proposals by the European Union (EU), Japan and others to negotiate a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) as an attempt to transfer "the utterly discredited Multilateral Agreement on MAI from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) to the WTO."

"This should be firmly resisted and rejected. We also believe that government procurement decisions (especially giving preference to local firms) are sovereign rights of our African countries and should not be brought into the WTO," says the ATN.

The ATN also has called on developing countries, particularly African countries, to defend and expand the scope of Special and Differential Rights in the WTO in order to ensure the protection of their development needs and aims.

"Globalisation is a grand design to re-colonise the developing world. There is a conspiracy to make developing countries sources of global profit for big transnational corporations," says Martin Khor, director of the Third World Network based in Malaysia.

Whenever Khor, who has extensively written on the WTO, hears the WTO say "something" he thinks of "the opposite".

"When they say competition policy, think of monopolies, workers rights, think of anti-workers right, and when they talk about the environment, think of dumping," notes Khor.

According to Khor, who also attended the ATN meeting, it is Africa of all the developing world that holds the key to stopping the new round of agreements in the WTO.

"We are very close to the abyss and only Africa can do it. African countries have everything to lose except Asian countries," Khor explains. "Asian countries are getting some sweets and incentives from liberalisation but not Africa. Africa has everything to gain by resisting."

Another issue that looks set to be controversial during the WTO ministerial meeting is the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) which relates to patenting of life and plant varieties.

The developed countries, through the TRIPs, now want the mandatory patenting of life forms and some natural processes. But the ATN recommended that Article 27.3(b) of the TRIPS Agreement be reformulated to exclude the patenting of life forms, in order to stop and prevent the theft of biological resources and traditional knowledge of the African countries.

The network expressed support for the African Group position on the review of the TRIPS Agreement, submitted by Kenya on behalf of Africa.

According to the ATN, the review process of Article 27.3 (b) should clarify that plants and animals as well as micro-organisms and all other living organisms and their parts cannot be patented, and that natural processes that produce plants, animals and other living organism should also not be patentable.

The Agriculture Agreement, the African Group says, should be changed to guarantee food security and the livelihoods of farmers in Africa.

"Agriculture liberalisation under the WTO is a threat to food security and to farmers in the South. For this reason, food production for domestic consumption, and measures and policies adopted for the protection of small farmers should not be subject to WTO disciplines," the group adds.

The ATN was formed in February 1998 to enhance African civil society input into developing Africa's interest in the international trade system.(END/IPS/lm/mn/99)

Origin: Harare/TRADE-AFRICA/

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