The Rich Set to Reap in CancunBy Adetokunbo Abiola
There is something seriously wrong with the international institutions that govern globalization. This was why Professor Joseph Stiglitz, the former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton, said: "The developed world needs to do its part to reform the international institutions that govern globalization. We set up those institutions and we need to fix them." Fixing these institutions is imperative in the backdrop of the Fifth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial conference which is taking place in Cancun, Mexico today. The main task of the conference is to take stock of the progress of negotiations under the Doha Development Agenda. The agenda, needless to say, is one of the few deliberations to take the interest of the developing countries at the centre of a broad and balanced working programme. Before and after Doha the WTO has been beset by a number of criticisms. It has been accused of being undemocratic and non-transparent in its decision making prcess. This enables the rich and powerful developed countries to prevail over the developing countries, making globalization to benefit the former. Though the WTO is meant to promote free trade, the fact that a few advanced countries manipulate its decision making machinery defeats the purpose of why the organization was set up. The manipulation has led to massive subsidies in the agricultural products of the few rich nations, hurting farmers in Africa and Latin America, since their produceis no longer competitive in the world market compared to those from the EU, the United States, Japan and Canada. Indications are that Cancun could suffer from the tradition of decision making process of the WTO. In the preparatory months to Cancun, the informal and non-inclusive nature of the decision making and drafting which the WTO has been accused of having reared their ugly heads. A few weeks to the conference, there was noi draft text for the ministerials and developing countries members did not know when the text would emerge. This was a deliberate ploy. Deprived of the draft text, developing nations would have little time to respond to the document and co-ordinate among themselves towards a common initiative. The possiblity of inadequate time forced a group of developing nations to call for orderly procedure that are well accepted in concave or organizations of sovereign states. Apart from this, the process of negotiations in the count down to Cancun was unknown. For instance, modalities on the agricultural negotiations were meant to be agreed upon by the month of March, but this had not been deliberated upon in July. There was no agreement in sight, as well as decisions on whether or not to initiate negotiations in investment, competition, transparency in government procurement, trade facilitation and other key areas. This engendered surprises on the part of devloping nations as the ministerials drew near. The latter states were put on their back foot, forcing them to react to situations rather than to control them. Months after the start of the "offers" round, when nations indicate sectors they are willing to liberalize, the rich nations were not forthcoming and the WTO had no mechanism, or did not see the need, to control the situation. The fall out of this is that the most important decisions by the ministers of the developing world will be taken right there in Cancun. And their handle on the complex technical details of the issues cannot match those of trade experts who should have been privy to the deliberations. Furthermore, there will be no fundamental change in the voting rights in Cancun. The trade ministers of the industrialized world will head the WTO meetings. This, of course, hampers the effective participation required from representatives of the Third World. Seen wiothin the background of the expected push of the EU, Canada and Japan for a WTO investment agreement, this could prove to be suicidal. An investment agreement in Cancun means the advancement of the corporate agenda of the rich countries to create new opportunites for expansion of their multinational corporations. It will also give these entities sweeping powers in the countries they invest, including the ability to control the environmental, social, natural and local laws and regualations of these nations. The decision making apparatus of the WTO needs to be overhauled. The negotiating process should be agreed upon by all deligates for the preparatory phase of WTO conferences. All members should be given the chance to express their views on the draft agenda drawn up, as well as be given sufficient time to study the documents to facilitate proper consideration by and consultation with their capitals. Finally, representatives of develpong nations need to head WTO meetings too in order to promote effective participation. Since these features are not in place, it will be business as usual in Cancun. The rich industrialized countries will get in proposals which will make them richer, while at the same time forcing poor countries to become poorer.
Copyright © 2003 Adetokunbo Abiola, Nigerian correspondent to Earthhope Action Network