10 May 2001

Open letter to Trade Commissioner Lamy concerning the European Commission’s ‘civil society’ dialogues on the WTO

Dear Commissioner Lamy,

We are writing to you on behalf of the ‘Seattle to Brussels’ network, a pan-European NGO network campaigning for a sustainable, democratic and accountable system of trade that benefits all. Our network includes development, environment, human and women’s rights, farmers organisations, trade unions and research institutes.

Today, May 10th 2001, you have invited several NGO and business representatives to participate in a general public meeting to discuss the launch of a New Round and the so-called civil society consultations organised by the European Commission. On this occasion, we would like to express that we are deeply concerned about these consultations and the EU’s position. For example, it appears that more than a year after the collapse of the WTO’s Seattle Ministerial and despite worldwide opposition to a new round from almost 1500 NGOs in 89 countries and many developing countries:

·        the EC is still not committed to an assessment of the impacts of the Uruguay Round;

·        the EC continues to push for a comprehensive new WTO trade round focussing on investment and competition;

·        the EC’s consultations focus mostly on modalities for a new round rather than engaging in a broad and public debate on alternative and sustainable forms of trade;

·        in special issue groups the issue of investment and competition are discussed that have been rejected by groups all over the world and many developing countries as new issues in the WTO (the new plurilateral approach for investment and competition and a GATS-type approach for investment are also rejected by the NGOs);

·        the contact group established by the EC includes business groups such as UNICE,  COPA and the European Services Forum that lobby for the interests of large companies and agribusinesses, but excludes the concerns of small scale enterprises and farmers;

·        the contact group is inherently exclusive and untransparent. Its problematic structure is an obstacle to a truly open, wider and substantive public debate about the EU’s neoliberal agenda;

·        exclusive meetings with business interest groups are undertaken in addition to the consultations;

In short, the EC appears to have little intention of reviewing and rectifying deficiencies of the current WTO regime or taking into account the concerns of many campaign groups and organisations. Because of these reasons many members of organisations, including many in the Seattle to Brussels Network, are of the opinion that participation in these consultations is pointless and even counterproductive.

Our members have signed the WTO: Shrink or Sink! statement. In this statement we call on governments to follow eleven clear steps to rollback the power and authority of the WTO and to develop a sustainable, socially just and democratically accountable trade system (see http//

We believe the EU should withdraw its proposal for a comprehensive new round. Negotiations already underway (concerning agriculture, intellectual property rights, and services) are already sufficiently controversial and have the potential to have severe negative impacts on people and their environment. We reiterate our call for a halt on further negotiation that would expand the scope and power of the WTO, notably in investment, competition, government procurement, trade facilitation, biotechnology, and accelerated tariff liberalisation.

The concerns of developing countries need to be taken into consideration. If not, the next WTO Ministerial in Qatar could turn out to be another Seattle.

The Commission should make every effort to develop a meaningful policy for an equitable and sustainable trading system. Such a policy can only be formulated after a comprehensive public debate and sustained and public dialogue with WTO -members and groups from all continents about the impacts of the Uruguay Round.

Yours sincerely,

Signed by 99 organisations in 19 countries.