WTO confirms irrelevance for development - IBON

IBON Foundation

The World Trade Organization's (WTO) tenth ministerial conference in Kenya's capital Nairobi confirmed its inability to deliver development, research group IBON said. Economies continue to be opened up at the expense of the world's poor majority. The United States (US) and European Union (EU) also blocked affirmation of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) as part of its strategy to push more aggressive liberalization on a wider range of issues, the group noted.

According to IBON, underdeveloped economies did not gain anything from the talks. They are still burdened with having to justify measures to protect domestic agriculture at the WTO. There was no progress in terms of public stockholding for food security and defending against agricultural import surges. Meanwhile, WTO members committed to eliminating agricultural export subsidies. The conference also approved the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) removing tariffs on technology products.

This liberalization appears to level the playing field and allow underdeveloped countries to compete with the developed countries. However, the developed countries will still be in an advantageous position after decades of using protectionist measures to strengthen their economies. The liberalization is not even certain because developed countries have a record of using technicalities to disguise or exempt their protectionism, said the group.

IBON also said that the failure of the Nairobi ministerial to affirm the DDA eroded WTO members' commitment to focus on agriculture, non-agricultural market access (NAMA), and services and to give concessions for underdeveloped countries since the Doha Round of talks in 2001. Now that the US and EU have blocked affirmation of the DDA, talks will no longer be done as a 'single undertaking' or as an indivisible package of measures as before. The two developed countries intend to increase their leverage to now argue for new issues and to be able to pursue smaller liberalization deals through separate measures.

The new issues sought include greater rights for foreign investors, opening up government procurement, weakening state-owned enterprises, strengthening monopolies on intellectual property, and expanding global value chains to worsen exploitation of cheap labour and natural resources. These will have adverse implications for Third World farmers, workers, and consumers as well as domestic agriculture and manufacturing sectors, said IBON.

The conclusion of the Nairobi ministerial confirms how the 20-year-old WTO upholds the interests of the rich countries and their largest corporations over the world's poor and vulnerable majority. The liberalized global economic system needs to be replaced by one that upholds peoples' sovereignty and the basic right to development, the group concluded.

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