WTO: Shrink or Sink! — A Critique of the WTO

OWINFS' Shrink or Sink (SoS) statement lays out eleven transformational demands on the WTO and offers a fundamental critique of the way the WTO operates. It advocates a clear civil society agenda for the WTO that is directed both to the institution and the member-county governments themselves. The "Shrink or Sink" statement has been signed by hundreds of organizations worldwide.

Some of the main points in the statement are:

Stop the anti-democratic practices of the WTO

The WTO is supposed to operate by consensus where each member country has equal say. The reality is very different. At the 4th WTO Ministerial in Doha, Qatar in November 2001, this was apparent. Key decisions were made in small "by invitation only" meetings and the U.S., EU, Canada and Japan (known as the "Quad" countries within the WTO) drove most of the agenda, despite opposition from countries in the South. In the run-up to the Cancun Ministerial, "Mini-Ministerials" are being organized in Australia, Japan and Egypt. Despite the fact that key decisions and discussions that affect all WTO members are on the agenda for these meetings, only a certain group of countries is invited. The powerful Quad countries will participate in all of the Mini-Ministerials, as will a small number of developing countries and the WTO Secretariat. The Mini-Ministerial process is aimed at forging consensus for the 145-member WTO with only a handful of countries - is fundamentally flawed and demonstrates the undemocratic nature of the WTO.

Stop the GATS Attack!

Initiated in February 2000, far-reaching negotiations are taking place which aim to expand the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) regime which could subordinate democratic governance in countries throughout the world to global trade rules. These GATS 2000 negotiations are taking place behind closed doors with little or no consultation of the sectors most affected by them.

The existing GATS regime of the WTO, initially established in 1994, is already comprehensive and far reaching. The current rules seek to gradually phase-out all governmental "barriers" to international trade and commercial competition in the services sector. The GATS covers every service imaginable including public services in sectors that affect the environment, culture, drinking water, health care, education, social security, transportation services, postal delivery and a variety of municipal services. Its constraints apply to virtually all government measures affecting trade-in-services, from labor laws to consumer protection; including regulations, guidelines, subsidies and grants, licensing standards and qualifications, limitations on access to markets, economic needs tests and local content provisions.

For many countries in the South, this invasion of peoples’ basic rights is not new. Over the last several decades, the structural adjustment programs of the IMF and the World Bank have been used to force many governments in the South to dismantle their public services and allow foreign-based healthcare, education and water corporations to deliver services on a "for profit" basis. Under the proposed GATS rules, developing countries could experience a further dismantling of local service providers, restrictions on the development of domestic service providers, and the creation of new monopolies dominated by corporate service providers based in the North. By dramatically increasing market control by corporations and by threatening the future of public services, the GATS 2000 agenda could trigger a global assault on the commons and democracy both in the North and the South. Moreover, the binding enforcement mechanisms of the WTO will ensure that this agenda is not only implemented, but rendered irreversible.

Stop Corporate Patent Protectionism - Seeds & Medicine are Human Rights, not Commodities

All intellectual property policies must allow governments to limit patent protection in order to protect public health and safety. This is especially essential in relation to life-saving medicines and life forms. The patenting of life-forms and their parts, including microorganisms, must be prohibited in all national and international regimes. Current intellectual property rules in trade pacts, such as the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement, obstruct consumer access to essential medicines and other goods, lead to private appropriation of life forms and traditional knowledge, undermine biodiversity, and keep impoverished countries from increasing their levels of social and economic welfare. There is no basis for inclusion of such intellectual property claims in a trade agreement.

At the Doha Ministerial, the WTO agreed to non-binding language stating that the TRIPS agreement should not prevent WTO members from taking measurers to protect the public health. Since the language was non-binding, the reality is unfortunately that the TRIPS agreement still makes it hard to make affordable medicines available to people. In addition, pharmaceutical companies are angling to weaken and destroy even this non-binding pro-public health interpretation at the Cancun Ministerial.

No Patents on Life

The patenting of life forms and their parts, and other intellectual property rights over biological resources must be prohibited in all national and international regimes. Genetic diversity is not a category of private property, and biopiracy or theft of traditional knowledge must be stopped.

Food is a Basic Human Right: Stop the Agriculture Agreement Fraud and Calamity
The Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) is fraudulent because the subsidies going to export oriented industrial farming have not been reduced (but instead have gone up), whereas the small farmers are suffering from import liberalization wiping out their livelihoods and incomes. To avoid further calamities to millions of small farmers, action must be taken immediately to drastically reduce or remove support for export-oriented agriculture and to reverse import liberalization.

Measures taken to promote and protect genuine food sovereignty and security as well as to promote small farmers practicing sustainable agriculture must be exempted from international trade rules. The trading system must not undermine the livelihood of peasants, small farmers, artisanal fishers and indigenous peoples that support local economies.

The basic human right to food can only be realized in a system where food sovereignty is guaranteed, meaning the right of peoples to define their own food and agricultural policies as well as the right to produce their basic foods in a manner respecting cultural and productive diversity.

No Investment Liberalization

The WTO Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) Agreement must be eliminated. All countries and especially third world countries must have the right to use policy options (such as local content policy) to increase the capacity of their own productive sectors, especially small and medium enterprises. One of the outcomes of the Doha ministerial was to open the door to possible negotiations on the so-called "New Issues" (investment, competition policy, procurement and trade facilitation) despite opposition from countries in the South. This will be one of the main points of controversy in Cancun, as the EU and Japan in particular continue to push for these negotiations. OWINFS opposes any attempts to start negotiations on investment rules, investment framework or an investment agreement of whatever kind in the WTO.

Prioritize Social Rights and the Environment

Trade liberalization encourages richer countries to consume more and poorer countries to export more. The end result is an increasingly polluted environment (through spiraling waste and transport-related pollution levels, for example) and the alarmingly rapid loss of irreplaceable natural resources. Furthermore, the WTO and other free trade agreements, which drive this destructive process, also include rules that undermine hard-won national and international legislation designed to protect peoples' environment. The "environment" will be a key negotiating topic for governments meeting in Cancun. It has been placed on the agenda by the EU in a very limited way, but there is little prospect of any real change, since the WTO's raison d'être is to increase the pace of the overall liberalization process.