WTO Talks Collapsed – Time for a Democratic Multilateral Trade System

Today, trade talks at the World Trade Organization in Geneva broke down. In view of this, the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) calls on the Philippine government to lead the demand for a democratic multilateral trade system.

The Doha round did not collapse over small technicalities. The talks collapsed over the wide divergence between WTO members on how to achieve development. The U.S. argued that opening markets was the best way to achieve food security and to promote livelihoods. India and China, supported by the majority of developing country members, argued for a strong safeguard mechanism to protect food security and livelihoods in the event of major disruptions to agricultural markets.

The APL and the civil society organizations were unanimous in their assessment that the rich countries failed to seriously take into consideration the developmental needs of the developing countries. Once again, the profits of corporations from rich countries dictated the conduct of the negotiations of the developed countries.

Developed countries did not make substantial concessions with regard to the billions of dollars in subsidies that they give to their farmers. At the same time, these rich countries want to pry open the market for industrial goods in developing countries, and are attempting to prevent developing countries from nurturing their local industries.

Practically all of the rich countries that are demanding lower trade barriers in developing countries are the very same countries that became rich through the use of protectionism when they were still at the initial stages of their industrialization.

Finally, more liberalized trade in services is being pushed by rich countries in order to penetrate the lucrative banking and insurance industries, among others, in developing countries. Worse, the rich countries also want a deal that would allow them to attract the highly skilled personnel from the developing countries. This brain drain will badly deny the developing countries of crucial skills needed for heath care, commerce, industry and agriculture.

This proves that the WTO model should now be buried. Developing countries no longer support what is on the table. And the undemocratic “Green Room” processes in the WTO are no longer acceptable.

However, the APL warns government that the Doha failure should not lead to more bilateral negotiations. After all, bilateral treaties are sometimes even more extreme than the WTO as we have seen in the case of the Japan Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

Instead, the focus should be on how the world can develop a more democratic multilateral trade system where our country can take advantage of the benefits of trade for growth and development, while ensuring that international agreements addressing serious issues of agriculture, energy, climate, human rights, and labor rights are more important than just increasing exports and imports.

APL participated actively in the social movement and civil society initiatives under the banner of “Our World Is Not for Sale” to convince governments, both of the developed and developing countries, to hammer out a deal if and only if that would be in the interest of the developing countries during the negotiations in Geneva that started last July 21, 2008.

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