I work for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. I am also the convenor of the Australian
Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) is a network of 57 organisations, including
unions, church groups, environment groups, human rights groups and other community
organisations which supports fair trading relationships with all countries. We recognise
the need for regulation of international trade but we want a different and fairer trade
We are here today to discuss Alternatives to the WTO Agenda because on
November 14-15 an "informal" meeting of World Trade Organisation (WTO) member
governments will be held in Sydney. Only 25 of the 144 member governments of the
WTO have been invited. The WTO is dominated by the economically powerful: the USA, Canada,
Europe and Japan. The Australian government has joined with them to pressure selected
governments to support an agenda dominated by transnational corporations.
In the last week there have been claims that this meeting is all about
making sure that developing countries get access to essential medicines. In fact it is WTO
rules that have been used to prevent this access, and the demands of developing countries
are still being resisted by pharmaceutical companies and by the US and the EU. We hope
that developing countries will overcome this resistance, but we note that this
"informal" meeting cannot actually make decisions on behalf of the WTO.
Why do we want alternatives to the WTO Agenda?
We live in a world where 2 billion people live on less than US$2 per
day, with little access to health, education and water services, where workers rights are
violated in many countries, and with continued destruction of the environment. Poverty and
inequality are also increasing in countries like Australia.
In this context of increasing global and local inequality, governments
are making the political decisions to transfer economic powers to global economic bodies
like the WTO, often behind closed doors and with little public accountability. These
bodies create uniform economic conditions for global trade and investment but can actually
remove local policy options for addressing poverty and inequality.
The World Trade Organisation makes binding legal agreements for trade
and investment which can impact on many areas of government regulation and policy. These
agreements seek to apply commercial rules to all areas of policy, paying little regard to
social or environmental impacts.
The WTO agenda puts free trade and corporate rights before worker and
human rights. Some examples of this agenda are:
- Giving corporations patenting rights regardless of the impact on basic needs, such as
medicine and seeds. The WTO Trade in Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) has
been the main barrier to access to affordable medicines for developing countries. This
access is still being resisted by pharmaceutical companies, and by the US and the EU, and
proper access is yet to be negotiated through the formal WTO process .
- Treating essential services like health, education and water purely as commercial goods,
weakening social regulation to ensure access to them and opening them to privatisation,
through proposed changes to the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).