Appeal to resist the launching of the New Round in Doha in November 2001

[By People’s Campaign against Globalisation]

FROM THE early 1980s through to the emergence of the WTO, the tendency of the major industrial countries has been to cause the GATT/WTO mandate to transcend national frontiers and enter domestic policy areas on a whole range of new issues. The process was sought to be reinforced relentlessly in the period that followed the birth of WTO in Marrakesh in 1995 up to the Seattle ministerial meeting in Nov.-Dec. 1999, which was intended to launch a “millennium round” of negotiations. The process of “deeper integration” unleashed by WTO was seeking to enforce standardization of domestic policies on a wide range of issues including investment, competition, technology, government procurement, labour standards, and taxation. This process is propelled by the main instrument of global capital, viz. the transnational corporations, constantly in search of expanding space for their operations; bent on removing all impediments in their way; seeking to transform the nation-states into their willing agents; totally ignoring the adverse employment, distributive and even survival implications for the vast multitudes of people; and creating a new, uniform “culture” of commoditisation and marketization of anything and everything. And all this is being pursued in the WTO in a high-handed, non-transparent and anti-democratic way.

The inherent inequity and injustice of the WTO’s conception, structure and functioning are, however, becoming too obvious even to the large sections of the affluent world, not to speak of the vast multitudes inhabiting the South. At the Seattle ministerial meeting of the WTO, a large majority of the WTO membership represented by the African, Latin American and Caribbean countries roundly criticized the “exclusion” being practised at WTO and the undemocratic character of its negotiations and decision-making. Wide differences also surfaced among the major industrial countries over sharing the spoils of the exploitative system. While the challenge to WTO was thus developing at Seattle from within, the real jolt to the system and the ruling establishments came from without. The spontaneous congregation of a vast number of organizations and forces opposed to the onslaught of the global corporate capital made a determined bid to stop the juggernaut of WTO at Seattle.

The Seattle episode temporarily resulted in a measure of self-doubt and some demoralization amongst the proponents of the new round of negotiations at the WTO. However, this was only short-lived, and the major industrial countries soon renewed their offensive. There was a lot of talk of confidence-building measures to win over the opponents and sceptics from developing countries. A good deal of meetings at different levels has taken place at Geneva. Pro-forma listing of concerns about the inadequacies and inequities in the existing agreements and functioning of the WTO was done. But according to reports available, only five of the fifty-five major “implementation” concerns (the officialese for the inadequacies and inequities of the existing system) have so far received some attention, leaving major issues such as textiles and clothing, anti-dumping, review of TRIPs with no progress at all. Instead, it is now being argued by the industrial countries that progress, if any, on these issues can be expected only in new round with a broad mandate on new issues. In plain words, promises and expectations of the past round are being made hostage to the agreement to give away more and more on new issues! The theme of the major industrial countries has continued to be the need for further expansion of the negotiating mandate to cover new issues such as a global regime on investment and competition policies, a new discipline to cover government procurement practices and further pursuit, in some form or the other, of the issue of “social clause” and “environment”, which are but euphemisms for neo-protectionism of industrial countries. And, of course, widening and deepening of liberalisation of the services sector; clinching of unrestricted market access in e-commerce and further reduction of tariffs in traditional trade including that in agricultural commodities. Although, the EU is cautious on further strengthening of discipline on agriculture, and the US is pushing for greater measure of free trade in agriculture, learning from the Seattle episode, the two trade majors, viz. the U.S. and EU seem to have strategically narrowed their intense differences on agriculture and investment so as to jointly threaten the rest with possible emergence of bilateralism, in case there is no agreement on what they must have in the new round. And the strategy already seems to be paying them dividends in that a number of self-styled economists and experts have recently issued a statement expressing their total support to the launching of the new round.

A ministerial meeting of WTO is now scheduled to be held in Doha (Qatar) in November 2001. The venue has obviously been selected to successfully pre-empt any large-scale popular outbreak of people’s resistance. As regards the agenda, the major industrial countries are again at their game of obfuscation, blackmail, arm-twisting and “divide and rule”.

The U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has arrived in India with the express intention of garnering Indian support to the new round. Press reports quoting senior government functionaries are already talking of “a subtle change of stand” from the erstwhile position of “no new round” to “taking care of core concerns”. The danger of Indian Government capitulating to US pressure is imminent.

The past experience in GATT/WTO negotiations as well as the inexorable logic of the working of global capital should leave no one in any doubt that there is no worthwhile gain coming our way as a result of the new round, which is being imposed by the industrial countries. So much was talked about in the WTO documents about trade gains from the Uruguay Round for developing countries worth billions of dollars. The Indian counterparts of the mercenary economists of WTO dutifully echoed these estimates and forecast huge gains for Indian industry as well as agriculture. The facts, however, have turned out to be quite the contrary. We are experiencing mass annihilation of small and cottage industries in the face of cheap imports. Even the organised sector is facing unprecedented challenges and retrenchments and lay-offs have become the order of the day. Agriculture, the last bastion of the national economy, is under severe threat of import competition. Horticulture, plantation industry, dairy industry, sugar industry, soya and even wheat and rice farmers are already experiencing severe difficulty. And, as if this was not enough, service sectors such as health and education are being opened up as part of the ongoing negotiations in the services sector. At the other end, the outflow of IT sector exports of manpower and skills are facing stagnation in the American market. All in all, the dreams sought to be sold by the apologists of the Uruguay Round have turned into nightmares before our eyes in a span of seven years!

Since even the professional trumpeters of the global capital and the servitors of the Triad of WTO-IMF-IBRD would find it extremely difficult to present a case in terms of bountiful gains from the new round for the third world, there seems to be a new emphasis in their arguments on the possible collapse of multilateralism in face of the dark clouds of economic recession looming large not only on the European horizon but also in America. And, therefore, the need to propitiate the bigwigs to remain in the multilateral system even at the cost of making sacrificial offerings to them of further large chunks of the third world markets and economic sovereignty. The argument is not new. It was the same argument that was effectively used by the Americans in eighties and nineties to push through their agenda of the then new round, later known as the Uruguay Round. That the same threat has to be employed again within less than a decade of the birth of the WTO is an eloquent commentary not only on the hollowness of the so-called multilateral system but also on the inherent unsustainability of the expansionist onward march of global capitalism.

The task before the people of India is clear: The launch of the proposed new WTO round at Doha in November 2001 must be opposed. The Government of India must be forced through mobilisation of public opinion to stand firm in their opposition to the new round. The harmful effects of the past round are no longer a matter of debate: they are hurting the working people of India in farms and factories. Further liberalisation of agriculture and industry will threaten the very survival of the Indian economy. The sophistry about multilateralism and gains from market access stands thoroughly exposed in terms of our recent experiences. The only task to be accomplished at the WTO now is to get iniquitous agreements like TRIPS to be thoroughly reviewed to regain the lost autonomy in the sphere of national self-reliance and technological development. And a people’s movement must be launched to ensure, if necessary through a constitutional amendment, that no more agreements be signed in the WTO by the Indian Government except with the explicit approval of the Parliament, and, in matters like agriculture, which fall in the States’ List, with similar approval of the State legislatures.

We call upon all patriotic forces, particularly, the working people in farms and factories, the downtrodden and deprived sections of our society, and the intellectuals and activists engaged with the cause of opposing the onslaught of the global capital in all its forms, to join the movement in order to further the tasks outlined above.