Swiss NGOs call for a moratorium on bilateral free trade agreements with developing countries

The EFTA countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland) are currently negotiating numerous bilateral free trade agreements with selected developing countries including Peru, Colombia and Thailand. At the EFTA ministerial meeting in Geneva on December 3rd, the trade ministers reaffirm their desire to begin trade negotiations with India and Indonesia as soon as possible. Alliance Sud and the Berne Declaration criticize this kind of free trade agreement, because it goes far beyond existing WTO agreements and results in further injustice for the developing countries involved.

The EFTA trade ministers wish to conclude bilateral free trade agreements as soon as possible with “economically attractive” developing and emerging countries such as India, Indonesia, Colombia and Peru. In a media debate organized together with the World Trade Institute (WTI), the Berne Declaration (BD) and the development policy working group of the aid organization Alliance Sud criticized the Swiss Federal Council’s plans. The proposed accords go far beyond existing WTO agreements, such that the developing countries will be held to even more rigorous opening of markets, protective controls and tariffs will be dismantled, and the countries will be required to implement vigorous patent protection.

Bastienne Joerchel, Coordinator for Development Policy at Alliance Sud, emphasizes that studies on existing bilateral free trade agreements, for example those between the EU and Mexico, show that industrialized countries profit far more from such agreements, while developing countries lose negotiating flexibility. Marianne Hochuli, Trade Expert at the Berne Declaration, points out that with bilateral free trade agreements, the developing countries must fear a weakening of the domestic banking sector, fewer possibilities for credit, unsustainable investments at the expense of local resources, and impeded market access for affordable drugs for the poor.

While the EFTA ministers vie with the EU and the US to see who can be the first to conclude comprehensive trade agreements with selected attractive developing countries, the Berne Declaration and Alliance Sud, together with NGOs from the EU, US and the EFTA countries, and supported by many international organizations and grassroots movements worldwide, call for a moratorium on further bilateral free trade agreements between industrialized and developing countries.