Philippino opposition to GATT intensifies

By William Pomeroy, in People's Weekly World, 7 January 1995

LONDON -- The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) has aroused some of the most widespread international opposition of any issue in recent years. Designed to enable unhampered operation in world markets by the big transnational companies, GATT's provisions will have their most disastrous effects on developing countries, particularly their workers and peasants.

Ten years of intense negotiations were needed to bring 130 nations into line under the new GATT because of resistance by many developing countries to having their economies laid wide open to the "free trade" advantages accorded to the transnationals. Developing countries that signed on were invariably those with strong neocolonial bondings to imperialist powers.

Among these is the Philippines, whose economy, after nearly 50 years of independence, continues to be largely in the grip of foreign, especially U.S., industrial, commercial and financial interests. Each GATT member, however, has to ratify the Final Agreement, falling to the Senate in the Philippines, and it is in that stage that the people have had a chance to be heard.

As a U.S. ally, Philippine President Fidel Ramos has backed ratification and pressed for Senate approval by the end of 1994. During the debate in November and December, only 10 of the 23 Filipino senators supported immediate ratification, five were adamantly against, and the remainder had reservations.

Outside the Senate, however, opponents of GATT took to the streets with mass demonstrations. The most effective opposition has been mobilized by the Partido Komunista ng Philipinas (PKP). On Nov. 30 mass organizations under its leadership led 5,000 people in a march through the center of Manila, calling on the Senate to reject GATT.

PKP General Secretary Pedro Baguisa presented the Party's anti-GATT position on the country's leading radio talk show, and Party representatives also presented their position to the Senate. Other organizations of the Philippine left joined the campaign and students held a rally outside the Senate protesting that GATT would increase the cost of books and other educational materials by up to 1,000 percent.

The PKP said, "The underlying logic of GATT is based on the economic theory of comparative advantage. This means that any member-country of GATT can receive equal treatment and access to the domestic markets of other member-countries. But how could the Philippines get equal treatment from this free trade when our government merely follows the World Bank-IMF policy to lessen government intervention in economic activities, as could be seen in its privatization program? Instead of strictly regulating foreign investment, it even gives too many incentives to it. The Philippines lost 10.8 billion pesos in the first eight months of [1994] due to tax incentives given to foreign investors. How could the Philippines get equal treatment when our economy is controlled and already in the hands of the transnational corporations, particularly from the U.S. and Japan?"

GATT's approval would cause the flooding of the Philippine market by foreign foods and manufactured goods, undermining national agriculture and industry, driving down the living standards of workers and peasants, and producing unemployment.

Even before GATT had been signed, the Ramos government was preparing the ground for its implementation. The provision in the country's Constitution allowing foreign investors to own 40 percent equity in joint ventures has already been violated by allowing a 100 percent foreign ownership. Under GATT, an extension of national treatment to all foreign investors is enabled, handing literally the entire economy to foreign corporations. It took decades for the Philippines to shake free of the infamous "parity rights" that U.S. imperialism imposed in 1946 to make its former colony a neocolony, but GATT could result in a "parity" grant to all foreign companies.

The PKP warns that an approval of GATT will not end the opposition. Said Baguisa, "There will be widespread unrest once the effects of GATT are felt."

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