Trade talks behind closed doors

Davos, 24.01.2004 - Today trade envoys of some 20 select members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are set to meet in Davos to try to kick start international trade negotiations.

The so-called ‘informal meeting’ intends to revive trade talks collapsed in Cancun (Mexico) in September 2003. Ministers meet at a closed-door gathering in parallel to the annual meeting of the ‘pro-business’ World Economic Forum.

At the “Public Eye on Davos“, the alternative conference to the World Economic Forum annual meeting, environmental and development organisations explain the dangers of such meetings. They reiterate their warning that no WTO agreement is still better than a wrong agreement, especially an agreement of the kind the industrialised world hopes to reach. The world’s top CEOs gathering here are expected to lobby trade negotiators to expand the remit of the WTO in order to gain access to new markets.

“It is scandalous that trade negotiators meet with big business and ignore demands of the small farmers or indigenous peoples forced off their land by multinational corporations,“ said Tony Juniper, Vice-President of Friends of the Earth International. “The list of cases where corporations have influenced trade policy or called for the use of trade agreements to block action for the environment or society is long. The last thing we need now, as the failures of corporate globalization become ever clearer, is for corporations to increase the potential they have to promote their business aims at the expense of the public interest, the environment or democracy. But that is exactly what is happening in Davos today, and that is why we are here” he added.

According to the development NGO Berne Declaration, it is pointless to carry out trade negotiations if the reasons for the breakdown of trade talks in Cancun continue to be ignored by the governments of the developed world. The Cancun talks collapsed because the industrialised world insisted on extending the scope of the WTO to new issues, in particular to an agreement on investment.

“Instead of focusing on the so-called “new issues” the WTO should make an assessment of the impacts of the Uruguay Round on developing countries, before a new trade agreement is signed. The predominance of women in small scale agriculture and the critical role they play must be recognised” said Phides Mazhawidza from Gender and Trade Network in Africa (GENTA).

“An investment agreement within the WTO would grant corporations new rights in the developing world without establishing new duties or responsibilities. In this way, the developing world would be, in practise, forbidden to follow development-oriented policies,” said Marianne Hochuli of the Berne Declaration.