We would like to bring to your attention the outcome of the second meeting of the African Trade Network, held in Accra, August 21-September 3, 1999. The meeting was organised by Third World Network Africa Secretariat, to discuss implications of the new round at the WTO for African countries.
The Africa Trade Network (ATN), a grouping of trade unions, social movements, citizen groups and non-governmental organisations from across the continent, today released a joint declaration on their opposition to a new round of talks in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). * See also, the African civil society statement below.
At the end of a four-day (Aug 31-Sep 3) meeting held here in Accra, Ghana, the ATN called on African governments to firmly reject any new issues, in order to protect their national sovereignty and development options. These new issues are those of investment, government procurement, competition policy and the reduction of industrial tariffs. The meeting which was attended by more than 30 participants noted that instead of a new round of talks, there should be a review of the existing WTO agreements and an assessment of the WTO system. "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,'' the group insisted.
The ATN meeting was organised by the Third World Network Africa Secretariat to discuss the implications of the proposed new round for African countries at the WTO Ministerial meeting to be held in Seattle, USA, at the end of November. 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.
This has contributed to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich few, while increasing poverty for the majority of the world's population and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, the group noted. The ATN dismissed proposals by the EU, Japan and others to negotiate an Investment Agreement as an attempt to transfer "the utterly discredited MAI from the OECD 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. Action must be taken to change the inherent imbalances and inequities of the WTO system and in the existing agreements,'' the group added.
In particular, the group 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.
On Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), 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. On this point, the Network expressed support for the African Group position on the review of the TRIPS Agreement, which was submitted by Kenya on behalf of the Group.
The Agriculture Agreement, the group said, 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 added.
The ATN was formed in February 1998 to enhance African civil society input into developing Africa's interest in the international trade system.
September 3, 1999.
NO NEW ROUND; TURN AROUND EXISTING AGREEMENTS!
Statement of African civil society on the Third Ministerial Conference of WTO
We, the undersigned members of African civil society representing trade unions, social movements and other civil society groups, are opposed to any attempt to expand the powers of the WTO through a new comprehensive round of trade liberalisation. Instead, governments should review and rectify the deficiencies of the system and the WTO regime itself, as part of the ongoing processes within the WTO. We therefore, call for a moratorium on new issues or further negotiations that expand the scope and power of the WTO. In this, we join the worldwide campaign of international civil society against the proposed Millennium Round, which could be launched at the Third Ministerial Conference in November 1999, in Seattle, USA.
The Uruguay Round Agreements and the establishment of the WTO were proclaimed as means of enhancing the creation of global wealth and prosperity and promoting the well-being of all people in all member states. In reality however, in the past five years the WTO regime has contributed 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. The Uruguay Round Agreements have functioned principally to prise open markets for the benefit of transnational corporations at the expense of national economies; workers, farmers, women and other groups in the developing world; and the environment. In addition, the WTO system, rules and procedures are undemocratic, untransparent and non-accountable and have operated to marginalise the majority of the world's people.
All this has taken place in the context of increasing global economic instability, the collapse of national economies, increasing inequity both between and within nations and increasing environmental and social degradation, as a result of the acceleration of the process of globalisation. Those governments that dominate the WTO, and that together with the transnational corporations have benefited from the WTO system, have refused to recognise and address these problems. Instead, they are pushing for further liberalisation through the introduction of new issues for adoption in the WTO. This will lead to the exacerbation of the crisis associated with the process of globalisation and the WTO.
NO TO NEW ISSUES
We oppose the introduction of the proposed new issues in the WTO, such as investment, competition policy and government procurement. The present Working Groups to study these issues should continue their work, or be closed down. They must not be 'upgraded' into negotiating groups for new agreements. We are also opposed to a new round of industrial tariff reductions.
We commit ourselves to campaign to reject any such proposals. We believe that proposals by EU, Japan and others to negotiate an Investment Agreement are attempts to transfer the utterly discredited MAI from the OECD 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. Further, competition policy and law should be domestic issues and not be subjected to WTO disciplines.
On proposals to pressure countries to further cut industrial tariffs, we wish to state that African countries have already drastically reduced their tariffs (especially under structural adjustment programmes) and this has led to closure of local enterprises and de-industralisation. 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.
TURNAROUND EXISTING AGREEMENTS
We call for a moratorium on new issues and further negotiations that expand the scope and power of the WTO. During the moratorium, there should be a comprehensive and in-depth review and assessment of the impacts of existing agreements. Effective steps must be taken to change the inherent imbalances and inequities of the WTO system and in the existing agreements. We call for particular action in the following areas:
1. SPECIAL AND DIFFERENTIAL RIGHTS
Special and differential rights are principles, which are firmly established within GATT, in order to correct the imbalances of the system, which work against developing countries. There have been increasing pressures since the Uruguay Round to limit the scope and significance of these rights. These rights must be reasserted as existing rights, which are necessary for the fair and equitable operation of the multilateral trading system. They are not 'favours' granted to the developing countries. Developing countries must see these rights as necessary to develop their capacities and to promote the interests of their people within the multilateral trading system. Therefore, we call on developing countries, particularly the African countries, to defend, exercise and expand the scope of these rights, in accordance with their own development needs and aims.
2. AGREEMENT ON TRADE RELATED ASPECTS OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS (TRIPS)
Article 27.3(b) of the TRIPS Agreement should be reformulated to exclude the patenting of life forms; as follows: 'Members must exclude from patentability all living organisms including plants, animals, microorganisms and parts thereof, and any processes making use thereof, and relating thereto'.
In this regard, we support the position as expressed in the African Group paper to the WTO General Council, submitted by Kenya on behalf of the Group.
We express full support for the Joint NGO Statement of Support for the Africa Group Proposals on Review of the TRIPS Agreement (Article 27.3(b)).
We therefore, call on African political leaders and diplomats in each country to stand firm in their position and to further develop this position with concrete proposals to prohibit the patenting of life forms, and to ensure the protection of traditional knowledge and the rights of local communities over biological resources.
3. AGREEMENT ON AGRICULTURE
In African countries, as in most other developing countries, small farmers form a major part of the population. Their livelihoods and products (especially food) are the main basis of Third World economies. These are threatened by agriculture liberalisation under the Agriculture Agreement. In developing countries, food production for domestic consumption and the measures and policies for the protection of small farmers should be exempted from the Agriculture Agreement's disciplines on import liberalisation, domestic support and subsidies.
4. AGREEMENT ON TRADE RELATED INVESTMENT MEASURES (TRIMS)
In the review of the TRIMS Agreement, we call for an amendment to allow developing countries the right to have 'local content' policy (i.e., to require firms or projects to use a certain minimum amount of local materials) so as to help development of domestic economic activity and conserve scarce foreign exchange. In addition, developing countries must be allowed to take measures for balancing the flow of foreign exchange.
Moreover, no new investment measures should be added to the list in the TRIMS Agreement. Nor should there be expansion of the scope of the TRIMS Agreement to cover investment and competition policy.
5. REFORMS OF THE WTO SYSTEM
For most developing-country members of WTO and for the public and legislatures in all member countries there is lack of transparency and democracy in the WTO system and processes -- its rule making, negotiations, monitoring and dispute-settlement. We urge that the Seattle Ministerial Conference take decisions to make the WTO system more open, transparent, democratic and participatory to developing countries, legislatures and civil society. These include but are not limited, to the following:
Consultations, discussion, negotiations and decision-making in WTO have to be truly transparent, open, participatory and democratic.
Any proposals on rules or for new agreements should be made known in their draft form to the public at least 6 months before decisions are taken so that civil society in each country can study them and influence their legislatures and governments.
All WTO members must be allowed to be present and participate in discussions and negotiations (including in informal groups and meetings where many key decisions are made). The practice of small informal groups making decisions for all Members should be discontinued.
Legislatures should be constantly informed of proposals and developments at WTO and have the right to make policy choices regarding proposals in WTO.
Civil society should be given genuine opportunities to know about and to express their views, and participate and influence the outcome of policies.
We call on our governments in Africa and other Third World countries to reject the new issues being proposed so that our national sovereignty and development options can be protected, and to demand for a review and reform of the WTO rules and system. We pledge to work with NGOs in other Third World countries in our common struggle on these issues.
We also appeal to our civil society colleagues in the developed countries, on the basis of our common humanity and in the interest of our common planetary home, to join with us in solidarity and campaign against the proposal for new issues, and for the review and reform of the WTO system and agreements.
Those who would like to sign on to the African civil society statement should write to TWN-Africa <firstname.lastname@example.org>