The head of the WTO, in a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has expressed the trade body’s “deep concern with the language, methodology and main conclusions” of a recent report on globalisation and its impact on human rights by two Special Rapporteurs.

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 27 August 2000 -- The head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has expressed the trade body’s “deep concern with the language, methodology and main conclusions” of the recent report to the Sub-Commission on Human Rights by two Special Rapporteurs.

The preliminary report, “Globalization and its Impact on Full Enjoyment of Human Rights” was by two jurist members of the Sub-Commission, and had made a critical appraisal of the WTO and the Bretton Woods Institutions, in assessing their framework, the policies they promote and their decision-making. The report had called for a “critical reconceptualization of policies and instruments of international trade, investment and finance.”

In relation to the WTO, the report had been critical of its rules and processes, and had faulted several parts of the WTO agreements, including its dispute settlement procedures, the TRIPS agreement and the patenting issues, particularly of life forms and plant varieties.

The two experts, Mr.Joseph Oloka-Onyango from Nigeria and Ms. Deepika Udagama of Sri Lanka, in focusing on the roles of the WTO and the Bretton Woods Institutions, had underscored that the globalization phenomenon had promoted policies which benefited fewer and fewer people.

The WTO, the Special Rapporteurs said, was superficially a democratic institution - functioning on the basis of one-member-one-vote and consensus decision-making  - but that such superficial equality “nevertheless masks a serious inequality in both the appearance and reality of power in the institution... in the deliberations and negotiations over further goals of trade liberalization, the WTO has demonstrated particular opacity in the face of the demand for transparency.”

While trade and commerce was the principal focus of the WTO, the organization has extended its purview to encompass additional areas beyond what could be described as within its mandate, the rapporteurs said. “Even its purely trade and commerce activities have serious human rights implications, compounded by the fact of scant (indeed only oblique) references to the principles of human rights.”

The net result, the two experts said, is that “for certain sectors of humanity, particularly the developing countries, the WTO is a veritable nightmare.”

Conveying the WTO head’s concerns over the report to Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the WTO Deputy Director-General Miguel Rodriguez’s letter argues that the WTO rules were negotiated and agreed by consensus by all WTO members, including developing countries who make up two-thirds of the membership, and that it would be difficult to understand why the 130 current WTO members, and the 30 developing countries and transition economies actively in the process of acceding “would be willing to abide by ‘unfair’ rules.”

The Rodriguez letter also claims that the failure to launch a new round of negotiations actually demonstrated that in fact the WTO functioned on consensus, and any member could block decisions, and that the central WTO principles of decision-making by consensus and most-favoured-nation treatment and non-discrimination help to reduce inequalities of bargaining power at the WTO.

The letter argues that apart from the reference to patents, the report of the Special Rapporteurs has not identified any cases of alleged conflict between the WTO and the human rights conventions. It also argues that the intellectual property rights (in the WTO/TRIPS) is a right flowing out of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The WTO letter further complains that sweeping conclusions have been drawn on the WTO and its agreements “virtually unsubstantiated by any empirical evidence”.

The two Special Rapporteurs (who have been mandated by the Sub-Commission to finalise their report) have been, however, invited to meet informally with WTO senior officials, and have the opportunity to understand the procedural and substantive content of the WTO and its functioning.

The WTO letter, and its final para requesting Mary Robinson to convey the WTO views “to those responsible for the preparation and oversight of the report”, suggests that the secretariat is not aware of the processes of the UN Human Rights bodies and the role of Special Rapporteurs who are commissioned to prepare and present such reports.-SUNS4728

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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