Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

Why everything goes wrong in the WTO


In the chronicle "A new solidarity trade policy" (Ny Tid 28 October), Secretary General of Norwegian Church Aid, Atle Sommerfeldt, explains how Norway and its alliance partners in the so-called G10 coalition have ended up as tailgating for the US and the EU and as opponents of natural allied poor countries in the ongoing WTO negotiations. There is a lot to learn here – both for the new red-green government and for representatives of Norwegian agriculture. Sommerfeldt encourages us to look up, and «take a constructive WTO position that does not conflict with poor farmers' demands for a production that they too can live with. The blocked situation the WTO is currently in may be a golden opportunity to rethink both its negotiating positions and potential allies.

Number of chronically malnourished is now 840 million, and the number is increasing by 4 million every year. This is the specific challenge negotiators in the WTO face, but nothing indicates that they will move the world forward in the right direction. Most likely, we get one of two results: a poor solution (tariff reductions combined with continued dumping of cheap food from rich countries) or a breakdown in negotiations. Why?

1: As you cry in the forest you get an answer.

The WTO is the successor to GATT (the General Agreement on Customs and Excise). Until the mid-1980s, GATT was a relatively uncontroversial organization that gradually succeeded in reducing trade barriers between countries. Throughout the 1980s, this work became increasingly politicized. Free trade became more a goal than a means. Ronald Reagan and Margareth Thatcher were the political premise providers, and alternative approaches were

to a lesser extent seen as interesting. This is despite the fact that a mix of free trade, government and protectionism had been the dominant economic policy for all western countries until around 1980. Thus, within the framework of the WTO, they have restricted themselves to calling for free trade no matter what the challenges may be. With such a one-sided tool in the toolbox, it goes without saying that the organization will constantly face tasks it cannot solve.

2: New industries

At about the same time, new industries such as agriculture (and later services were included in the WTO negotiations). This presented the WTO with entirely new problems. Not only did almost all countries define agriculture as a vital industry in a way other than, for example, industry, and were consequently far less willing to compromise. Equally important is that free trade in food has completely different consequences than free trade in industrial goods. Food production (provided that the world's land resources are fully utilized and the world needs all food produced) cannot be moved from one place to another. When soil is removed from production in a marginal area, this area cannot be moved to a more productive area. Unlike other items such as furniture: Technically, all the world's furniture production can

moved to Sunnmøre. In food production, on the other hand, we depend on finding solutions that allow it to be produced profitably in Hemsedal, the Netherlands and Mali. One of the architects behind EU agricultural policy, previously

The French Minister of Agriculture, Edgar Pisani, sums up this dilemma when he writes: "The world needs all its agricultural areas". When it comes to services, many of these are as vital to countries as agriculture. This especially applies to basic public services such as schools, health, water supply, etc. – all services that Norway is in the forefront of forcing developing countries to postpone on international tenders. One can with good reason ask whether poor, low-income countries in the South are still to be regarded as independent countries if these services are managed by foreign companies and agriculture is replaced by dumped goods from the world market. This is also what these countries are asking for, and putting their foot down.

3: Environment and people irrelevant

The WTO engages in trade policy within very narrow limits, that is, with money and goods flows between the countries. There is no discussion about the basic fact that all production for a market is dependent not only on capital but also on people and natural resources. With this starting point, both humans and nature must be injured. The deforestation of the Amazon, the destruction of the climate (among other things as a result of all transport free trade entails), or the working conditions of land workers in both rich and poor countries are clear examples of this. In any case, a discussion of economics and trade involving both people and the environment will force itself as environmental problems increase with the difference between poor and rich in the world.

4: Democratic deficit and closed rooms.

In theory, the WTO is a democratic institution in which each country not only has its vote, but also the right to veto. In reality, the votes are unevenly distributed, and only the US and the EU have the opportunity to use the veto right. This effectively blocks the negotiations, and produces many devastating results. Bilateral coercive processes take place under the guise of multilateral negotiations. The WTO is often portrayed as a good one in relation to one possible alternative: the rich countries enter into bilateral agreements with poor countries. This is only partial

correct. A large part – perhaps the most important – part of the processes in the WTO takes place in what the leader of Oxfam-Belgium, Raoul Marc Jennar, calls a "shuttle diplomacy between capitals". In these covert negotiations, only economic (and sometimes military) power prevails. Much is also decided in closed spaces between the EU, the US and selected possible allies. Here, small, poor countries are put completely on the sidelines. When the solution proposals are presented, these countries do not have the resources to change anything.

But how long can this poor majority be kept down? Countries such as Brazil and India have already hit the table and put sticks in the wheels of the United States and the European Union. India is also making increasingly clear demands – and with one billion inhabitants behind it. African countries are also raising their voices both in terms of the right to decide their own tariffs and against rich countries' increasingly advanced dumping of cotton and food on the world market.

In this situation, Norway has joined the so-called G1o group. This is now almost powerless because it has no allies and is forced to hang on to the EU or the US. The Declaration of Government ambitious goals for each country's right to produce food for its own population and acceptance of other countries' room for action to build a welfare state is no more than wishes for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, as long as Norway and G10 are able to build new alliances with the poor majority in the world. It should be obvious that, for example, a G43 group (G10 + G33) would have a far greater impact than G10 alone.

New alliances can break down the barriers that prevent the WTO from functioning. The new government has promised to bet on this. Dare it?

Ole-Jacob Christensen, board member of the Norwegian Farmers and Small Farmers' Association.

You may also like