Unity is our only asset - Fidel
In his address to the 2nd Ministeral meeting of the WTO, Fidel Castro charged that while the US has obtained practically all it has wanted in the WTO, the Third World countries have been losing everything. Reminding the South that 'we are the majority in this organisation', he called for unity in the defence of the legitimate aspirations of the South.
LAST March, the United States Government made public the '1998 Trade Policy Agenda of the United States' where it was literally indicated that it is set to be 'aggressive, directed globally and at all key regions of the world'; that 'as the most important and successful economy in the global trading system, the United States is in a strong position to use its powers of persuasion and influence to pursue this Agenda'; and that 'despite the substantial market openings that have been achieved in recent years, there remain too many barriers to United States goods and services exports throughout the world'. Such language is disquieting.
Together with this, in September 1995, following a United States initiative, even though the World Trade Organisation already existed with 132 Member countries in different stages of development, discussions began in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an exclusive First World Club, to work out a Multilateral Agreement on Investment.
Due to problems obviously related to the sovereignty of States, the subsequent idea to negotiate that agreement in the World Trade Organisation was strongly opposed by numerous Members at the Ministerial Conference held in Singapore in December 1996. However, the Agreements reached there did not prevent the OECD - made up, as I said, of developed countries - from proceeding with the elaboration of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.
Attempts by the United States to introduce key aspects of the Helms-Burton Act in said Agreement led the negotiations to a standstill, leaving only the United States and Europe involved while the other 13 OECD member nations were left out.
The above-mentioned Act illustrates the United States behaviour in its economic war against Cuba. The extraterritorial nature of these and other measures led the European Union to request from the WTO the establishment of a Special Panel which was then approved on 20 November 1996.
Amazing and shrewd manoeuvre
Later on, by 11 April 1997, an understanding was reached on the basis of certain American pledges associated with the implementation of, and amendments to, the Helms-Burton Act. The European Union, to avoid weakening the WTO, agreed to temporarily suspend the commencement of the Special Panel activities.
An amazing and shrewd manoeuvre had allowed the United States to leave the dock at the WTO and undertake to laying down new rules in international law within the framework of the OECD in an attempt to retroactively insert in the Multilateral Agreement on Investment the supposed illegality of the nationalisations conducted in the late 1950s - a date exactly coinciding with the triumph of the Revolution in Cuba - a principle that can also be applied to nationalisations carried out in other countries after 1959, the intention being to internationalise the principles of the infamous Helms-Burton Act under the umbrella of a multilateral agreement. That Act, which has not been amended at all, has arbitrarily turned people who were Cuban citizens at the time of the expropriations into expropriated Americans.
Actually, the extraterritorial principle of the blockade had been in force long before that shameful Act came into existence. The United States Administration prevents every American company, whatever the country where it is based, from trading with Cuba. That constitutes a violation of sovereignty and is extraterritorial by nature. There are plenty of reasons for the world to feel humiliated and be concerned, and the WTO should be capable of preventing an economic genocide. Disputes between the United States and the European Union about this law should not be settled at the expense of Cuba. That would be an inconceivable dishonour for Europe. The agreements announced in London yesterday (18 May) are unclear, contradictory and threatening for many countries, as well as unethical. The economic blockade has already cost Cuba US$60 billion.
In the last few years, the United States has approved over 40 laws and executive decisions to apply unilateral economic sanctions against 75 nations representing 42% of the world population.
The United States obtained practically everything it wanted with the agreements leading to the establishment of the WTO, and particularly the General Agreement on Services, an old dream. The same applies to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, a field where it holds a privileged control thanks to its technological development and systematic plundering of the best minds in the world. Some of its patents have received up to 50 years of exclusive rights and it has additionally obtained other highly beneficial agreements.
The United States also has the peculiar privilege of issuing the currency in which the central banks and the trade bank deposits worldwide keep most of their hard currency reserves. The transnational companies of the nation whose citizens have the lowest saving rates are purchasing the world riches with the money saved by people in other countries and the money printed without the gold backing agreed upon in Bretton Woods, and unilaterally ended in 1971.
Therefore, if the Eurocurrency emerges as a strong and prestigious currency, we say, 'Welcome the Euro'! It would be of benefit to the world economy!
New issues introduced in the WTO's agenda by the wealthy countries are threatening the competitive possibilities of the developing countries. These new issues, introduced in the midst of already difficult conditions fraught with inequalities, will certainly be used as pretexts for non-tariff barriers or to prevent their commodities from acceding to the markets.
Unbearable weight of debt
The Third World countries have been losing everything: custom tariffs that protected their emerging industries and produced revenues; agreements on basic commodities; producers' associations; price indexation; preferential treatment; any instrument protecting their exports' value and contributing to their development. What are we offered?
Why isn't the unfair and unbalanced trade mentioned? Why is the unbearable weight of the external debt no longer discussed? Why is the official Development Aid being reduced? If every developed country did like Norway, the Third World would annually have US$200 billion for its development. Norway should be imitated!
How are we supposed to make a living? What goods and services shall we export? Which industrial productions will be left to us? Only those with a technology gap and a high input of human labour, and the highly polluting? Might this be an attempt to turn a large part of the Third World into an immense free zone full of assembly plants that do not even pay taxes?
Why is the strongest economic power in the world obstructing China's access to the WTO when that country shelters one-fifth of the world population? Why does it jeopardise the admission of Russia and other countries? No nation, big or small, can be left out of this important institution, nor should it; and its admission cannot be subjected to humiliating conditions.
The developing countries must fend off divisions. Unity is our only asset, the only guaranty in the defence of our legitimate aspirations.
Those of us who were colonies yesterday and are still today enduring the consequences of backwardness, poverty and underdevelopment, we are the majority in this organisation. Every one of us has the right to a vote and no one has the right to veto. We should turn this organisation into an instrument of the struggle for a more just and better world. We should also count on those responsible statesmen, sensitive to our realities, who can undoubtedly be found in many developed countries.
Despite so much euphoria, no one can be sure of how long the United States economic system, ruled by the blind laws of the market economy, will be able to prevent a financial meltdown. There are no economic miracles. That is clear now. The absurdly inflated stock prices in the stock exchange markets of that economy - unquestionably the strongest in the world - cannot be sustained.
In similar situations, history is not known to have made exceptions. The problem is that now a big crisis would go global and have unforeseeable consequences. Not even the adversaries of the prevailing system could wish that to happen.
It would be worthwhile for the WTO to assess these risks and include among the so-called 'new themes' another one: 'Global Economic Crisis. What to do?'