Date: Fri, 10 Sep 1999 23:30:54 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: TRADE-AFRICA: Civil Society Rejects Attempts To Expand WTO Powers
/** 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
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
"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
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
"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)
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