CSOs disappointed over MC11 failure to deliver on PSH, development
Published in SUNS #8597 dated 15 December 2017

Geneva, 14 Dec (Kanaga Raja) - A global network of civil society organisations (CSOs) has expressed deep disappointment over the failure of the eleventh WTO ministerial conference (MC11) to bring about outcomes amongst others on a permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, a workable Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM), and on addressing WTO constraints to development.

In a final statement issued following the conclusion of MC11 on Wednesday (13 December), the CSOs, grouped under the Our World Is Not For Sale (OWINFS) network, said that they are deeply disappointed that WTO members once again missed a crucial opportunity to address fundamental problems in the global trading system.

At the same time, however, they were relieved that the push by giant technology corporations for an agenda to expand WTO rules over the future digital economy failed to garner support from a majority of members.

The CSOs said that despite a mandate to find a permanent solution for public stockholding at MC11, members failed to remove WTO constraints on countries' ability to feed their hungry populations and improve farmers' livelihoods; on a workable Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM); and on disciplining (rich nation's) subsidies that distort trade and damage farmers' livelihoods around the world.

Likewise, said the CSOs, members made no progress on the key issue of addressing WTO constraints to development, having completely ignored the G90's development proposals.

"Fortunately, given that there was no Ministerial Declaration, previous affirmations of the development agenda still stand."

It is unfortunate that members were not able to agree to discipline fish subsidies, but given that some members opposed preserving development policy space in fisheries, it is better that members continue consultations in Geneva, the CSOs pointed out.

Some 80 civil society representatives from 34 countries were in Buenos Aires as part of the OWINFS network delegation, with several of them providing some reactions at the end of MC11:

Jane Kelsey, Law Professor, University of Auckland, New Zealand: "Powerful countries that became used to dominating the WTO have discovered that they can no longer control the outcomes of ministerial conferences. Rather than accept the reality that the majority of the world's countries and people want the WTO to address their urgent development realities, a self-selected group of mainly rich countries have clubbed together to set up their own process. Doubtless they plan to bully developing countries back in Geneva and at the next ministerial meeting. Doing so will simply deepen the WTO's crisis of legitimacy."

Sachin Kumar Jain, Right to Food Campaign, India: "It is sad that WTO members could not reach a permanent, acceptable, pro-people solution on public stockholding. We were hoping that developed countries would at least now give prominence to human lives over agribusiness and profiteering food business."

Sylvester W. Bagooro, Third World Network-Africa, Ghana: "The outcome of MC11 from Africa's perspective could be viewed in two ways. On one breath Africa has not accepted any further onerous obligations but also has not gotten anything from this Ministerial. So Africa returns home empty handed. It is time for Africa to look within for solutions to the Continent's problems judging from the posturing of developed countries over the years."

Ruben Cortina, President of UNI Americas, UNI Global Union, representing more than 20 million workers from over 900 trade unions in the fastest growing sectors in the world - skills and services: "Again the international system is at a crossroads: change the agenda to focus on peoples' interests and multilateralism will begin to work; keep it as it is now and no matter how many police you put in the streets and how many civil society members you deport, things still won't work. The international trade union movement is vital for a fair and inclusive future."

Dr. Christina J. Colclough, Director Platform & Agency Workers, Digitalisation and Trade, UNI Global Union : "The Joint Statement on E-commerce, signed by 42 countries plus the European Union, is a far cry from the hopes of the countries who had aimed to create a WTO 2.0 on e-commerce. The collapse is good news. We will push back against any attempts to continue this agenda. Let's be clear: the free flow of data does not equal the free and equal access to data. It won't benefit you and I. What these e-commerce proponents were pushing for would benefit Big Tech at the expense of all others and not least workers."

Prerna Bomzan, Third World Network (TWN), Nepal: "We are once again disappointed that least developed countries' (LDC) concerns were ignored during the Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires. The LDC package is long overdue and we continue to demand an immediate, binding deliverable to enable the inclusion of the most marginalised countries into international trade."

Georgios Altintzis, Trade Policy Officer, International Trade Union Confederation, representing 181 million workers in 163 countries and territories and with 340 national affiliates: "Inserting new issues prematurely (into) the WTO has largely been avoided. The global trade union movement remains vigilant on further developments, particularly on e-commerce in non-multilateral settings."

Parminder Jeet Singh, IT for Change, India: "We are happy that attempts by the US and its allies to bring e-commerce to the WTO as a way of liberalising "everything" through the backdoor, and ensuring entrenching of business models of GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) based on monetising our data, have failed.... Developing countries must now focus on building their domestic digital industry, through appropriate digital industrial policies. They should work together on this, developing best practices."

Helene Bank, Norwegian Trade campaign, Norway: "Rich countries have undermined the multilateral trading system by totally overloading the WTO-agenda and never accommodating developing countries' needs. We as civil society need policies that protect societies, welfare, workers and human rights, ecosystems and common resources, NOT sell out to big corporations. Our societies need international systems that call for regulation of trade and the economy, NOT the WTO-push for deregulation and undermine just rules."

Nick Dearden, Global Justice Now, United Kingdom: "The collapse of the WTO ministerial was "the best outcome possible" given the position of rich countries at this week's summit. We criticize the continued intransigence of rich countries like Britain who have no interest in solving the fundamental injustice of current WTO rules, and instead want to turn the whole world into a corporate playground."

Timothy A. Wise, Researcher, Small Planet Institute and Tufts University, USA: "Intransigence by the United States has again prevented the WTO from taking steps to allow developing countries to protect their farmers from unfair trade practices such as dumping. Public stockholding for food security should be allowed without interference, to protect farmers from dumping and to feed the hungry."

Nabil Abdo, Arab NGO Network for Development, with members and partners in 12 Arab countries. "The WTO failed again to deliver on development, and put the needs of people, farmers, workers, and vulnerable people at the center of its concerns. The MC11 failed due to the insistence of some powerful developed countries to prioritize corporate profit and tech giants over food security and sovereignty, the ability to design national policies, and most importantly the interests of people."

Petter Titland, ATTAC Norway, Norway: "The TISA-countries are pushing the agenda of the big data extraction firms like Google, Facebook and Amazon without a public debate about the future of our economy and digital industrial policy. Nigeria is the only African country supporting negotiations on e-commerce in the WTO. All the other African countries want to develop their own digital industrial policy, and we must support them."

Sophia Murphy, Senior Advisor, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Canada: "The multilateral system can only work on the basis of trust and compromise. By refusing to meet any country part way in Buenos Aires, the Trump Administration has squandered an opportunity for Americans to be part of building a trade system that starts to tackle the real challenges of the 21st century: inequality and the fragility of our planet's resources."

Maruf Barkat, COAST Trust, Bangladesh: "Our analysis of the proposals and their progress in the WTO's MC11 is that true "development" has been ignored. The proposed e-commerce rules will not help MSMEs even though MSMEs are a commonly cited justification for the proposed e-commerce rules. MSMEs need WTO Members to agree to the G90 special and differential treatment proposal. The proposed MSME work program would limit the policy space to help MSMEs."

In their final statement at end of MC11, the OWINFS network welcomed that the majority of members saw clear that it is far too premature for the WTO to begin negotiations on the digital economy, and simply reaffirmed the existing working program for discussions on e-commerce.

Likewise, the majority of countries agreed that countries' sovereign right to regulate in the public interest should not be further limited by the WTO, and that "domestic regulation" disciplines are not necessary, and thus no new rules on "domestic regulation" were agreed.

Likewise, most members realize that new negotiations on investment facilitation are unwarranted, and decided against a new mandate on this issue.

Other issues like micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and "gender and trade" are Trojan Horses for sneaking in "new issues" like e-commerce, and represent the wrong agenda of further benefits for corporations at the expense of jobs and development.

The CSOs noted that a declaration against the appropriation of gender to further liberalization was signed by over 164 groups in 24 hours this week.

Likewise, myriad MSME associations raised objections to the e-commerce agenda and against the so-called "MSME work programme" that is against their interests.

"Despite many of our representatives from civil society having been unjustly, and without due process, banned from participating, those of us who were allowed in have raised our voices about the negative impacts of existing WTO policies on workers, farmers, the environment, development, and the public interest, calling for fundamental transformations to the existing trade system."

"We believe in a democratic, transparent, and sustainable multilateral trading system, and do not want to see the WTO depart even further from that ideal, and will continue our call on governments not to expand the failed model of the WTO to new issues," the CSOs underscored.

According to the CSOs, it seems that the United States came to Buenos Aires with an agenda of rejecting the consideration of development concerns in trade. The US attempted to bully its way into shaping an outcome in its interests, but the majority of developing countries - having faced the brunt of negative WTO policies for so many years - resisted this pressure.

"We are just as disappointed at the EU, since it failed to play a constructive role at the Ministerial. While claiming to build consensus, it stuck with a discredited approach of expansion of WTO trade rules, deregulation, increasing market access, while refusing to repair the existing WTO rules which are harmful to developing countries."

The CSOs recognized the leadership of the African Group, India, the ALBA group of Latin American countries, and other countries in defending that multilateral trade policy should foster, rather than constrain, development prospects.

No matter the outcome, the WTO as an institution continues to exist and continues to have rules that are detrimental to developing countries, workers, farmers, the environment, and the public interest generally.

"These rules need to be fundamentally transformed as we have outlined in the Turnaround Agenda, endorsed by hundreds of civil society organizations from around the world, which is similar to the objectives of the developmental aspects of the Doha Development Round," said the CSOs.

The Dispute Settlement mechanism will continue to enforce asymmetrical rules against developing countries and public interest regulations. Moreover, its effectiveness depends on the complaining country's ability to retaliate, making it useful for powerful countries but less so for developing countries.

With or without agreements at MC11, the new paradigm of plurilaterals and the continuation of bilaterals are used by neo-liberal trade negotiators in different countries to impose their agenda of further expanding trade and investment rules.

Such new trade rules further restrict the ability of countries to pursue public policy objectives such as the promotion of health, education, and employment, as well as the protection of the environment and labour rights.

"We support the conclusion of the development aspects of the Doha Development Round, but we oppose the expansion of liberalization trade rules - be they though bilaterals or plurilaterals or multilaterally in the WTO," the CSOs underlined.

They applauded the majority of developing countries at MC11 who have held firm against massive pressure, led by Japan, Australia and Singapore, to launch negotiations on electronic commerce in the WTO.

A series of proposals on e-commerce tabled since mid-2016, initially by the US and then pursued by Japan and the EU, were designed for, and largely by, the Big Tech companies.

The CSOs noted that a Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce issued late morning of the final day of the conference was supported by a minority of the 164 WTO Members.

The Members plan to hold "exploratory work towards future WTO negotiations", even though there is no mandate from the Ministerial Conference to take e-commerce any further than the "discussions" that are currently authorised.

"We see this electronic commerce statement as a repeat of the tactics used in the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). A self-selected group of countries took it upon themselves to rewrite the trade in services rules of the WTO in ways that intrude deeply on nations' right to regulate and without any development dimension. TiSA had no WTO mandate and in theory was conducted outside the WTO, but the Secretariat was complicit by facilitating its meetings. The same must not happen with e-commerce."

The statement seems carefully to avoid the word plurilateral, presumably to play to Trump sensitivities, but the United States is on the list of participants, the CSOs pointed out.

"It is not clear why electronically transmitted products should not contribute to the tax base while products that are traded through traditional mechanisms usually do. However, it is a positive outcome that the moratorium on TRIPS non-violation complaints, which is essential to ensure lifesaving medicines for millions of people, was approved, although it should have been approved on a permanent basis."

Existing investment rules have given new rights to corporations to profit in countries while putting taxpayers on the hook for millions in payouts for upholding public interest regulations. Even if the proposals focus on investment facilitation (IF), this is not a trade issue per se, and UNCTAD is already the primary multilateral agency working on investment.

"No new work program on IF is a positive outcome of MC11," the CSOs said.

They also noted that the SDGs agreed by all WTO members include a focus on expanding access to and quality of many public services, as well as other key services like financial services and telecommunications.

The proposed rules on Domestic Regulation would severely undermine the regulatory sovereignty of countries.

Governments - not trade panels - should have the authority to decide community issues that are inherently subjective. Foreign companies should not have "rights" to input on measures proposed by local or national authorities before they are decided domestically. Members have not yet agreed whether disciplines on these measures are "necessary."

"No disciplines on domestic regulation is a positive outcome for MC11," the CSOs said.

There is a clear mandate for a pro-development and pro-environment outcome on disciplining fishing subsidies. But existing industrial fishing nations are insisting on rules that would undermine the future developmental aspirations of developing countries and harm existing artisanal fisher-folks' livelihoods.

"The developmental and economic policy space of developing countries must be maintained whilst those nations that have contributed most to the problem of IUU and overfishing must agree to eliminate harmful subsidies. Since policy space for development was not protected, it is better that members agreed to continue negotiations on fish."


According to the CSO statement, there remains an urgent need to transform existing WTO rules which are constraining policy space for job creation and development, including achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

"The Doha Work Programme on development must be concluded as soon as possible, rather than permanently shelved in favour of a big business agenda of WTO expansion."

Agriculture rules in the WTO must be transformed. A permanent solution for public stockholding that is workable for all developing countries, and a workable Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) should have been agreed as the top priority of MC11, said the CSOs.

Current inappropriate proposals on agricultural subsidies fail to take into account the huge dumping impact of domestic subsidies on exported products while calling on developing countries to cut subsidies.

The top priority for a genuine development agenda would be transforming the current rules on agriculture. Rich countries, not the poor, are currently allowed to subsidize agriculture under WTO rules - even in ways that distort trade and harm other countries' domestic producers.

It is unfortunate that members did not agree to reduce the subsidies of developed countries under "domestic support" - including in the "Green Box" category of subsidies when these actually have trade-distorting impacts.

Subsidies that the US and the EU provide to cotton producers enrich a few thousand there, but have unfairly decimated production of hundreds of thousands of cotton farmers in Africa.

"It is deeply disappointing that members did not decide to significantly reduce or eliminate developed countries' domestic supports for cotton at MC11."

Given the existing subsidies, developing countries should also be able to protect domestic production when facing import surges. An outcome on SSM - unconditioned on further tariff cuts - would have greatly enhanced developing countries' ability to achieve food security, promote rural development and farmers' livelihoods.

By contrast, most developing countries are only allowed miniscule subsidies. But the SDGs entreat countries to increase investment in sustainable agriculture. Also, there is growing acceptance of the "right to food" as a human right. One of the international best practices for supporting farmers' livelihoods, ensuring food security, and promoting rural development is "public stockholding." But these programs - in dozens of developing countries - often run afoul of WTO rules - even though the agriculture supported is not traded in global markets.

The CSOs noted that supports by China and India to farmers on a per capita basis remain miniscule - only a few hundred dollars per farmer, as compared to tens of thousands for the United States. Supports in African and many Middle Eastern countries and LDCs should be increased even if they don't have existing programs.

"Members had a commitment to deliver a positive resolution on the public stockholding issue that would have allowed all developing countries to implement food security programs without onerous restrictions that are not demanded of developed countries' trade distorting subsidies, and it is deeply disappointing that they did not resolve this issue," they said.

Along with transforming the global rules governing agricultural trade, developing countries have long advocated for other changes to the existing WTO to increase flexibility for them to enable them to enact policies that would promote their own development.

The G90 proposals for changes to existing WTO rules would remove some WTO constraints on national pro-development policies. These would allow developing countries to promote manufacturing capabilities, stimulate the transfer of technology, promote access to affordable medicines, and safeguard regional integration.

"It is deeply disappointing that the G90 proposals, without being conditioned on further market access concessions, and the Para 44 mandate to continue post-MC11, were not agreed at MC11."

The CSOs called on Members to return to Geneva to reaffirm multilateralism, and fundamentally transform the existing trading system - along the lines of the Turnaround Agenda endorsed by CSOs around the world - so that it can be an engine for development and shared prosperity rather than a platform for expansion of a big business agenda.