ILPS Statement on 20 Years of the WTO
By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Chairperson, International League of Peoples’ Struggle
5 December 2015
Since its establishment 20 years ago, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been a key pillar of the post-Cold War international economic order led by US imperialism. After World War II, the imperialist powers set the rules for the international trading system through the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). But this covered only 23 mostly industrialized countries. The WTO was established to succeed the GATT. Starting with 128 members in 1995, it has since expanded to bind 161 member states under its rules covering 98% of global commerce. It has deepened and accelerated the incorporation and dependency of third world countries and even former socialist countries in the global capitalist market with the accession of China in 2001, Vietnam in 2007 and Russia in 2012.
It has cut down average applied tariffs by half over the last twenty years, most steeply in the third world. This has boosted global trade by 250% over the same period, primarily for the benefit of super monopoly firms in the imperialist countries. The UNCTAD estimates that about 80 per cent of global trade (which currently amounts to more than 20 trillion USD) is linked to the international production networks of TNCs, and close to half of this is intra-firm trade.
Whereas the GATT focused mainly on tariff reduction in manufactures, the WTO has 60 agreements covering areas such as agriculture, services, investment, finance, public procurement, customs procedures, information and communications technology and intellectual property.
Thus the WTO has not just boosted trade but also the export of surplus capital. The foreign direct investment stock overseas of TNCs saw an eight-and-a-half-fold increase from 1995-2014, sales of their foreign affiliates increased five times and superprofits extracted in the form of royalties and fees increased 656% since the WTO’s advent. Thirty-seven of the world’s 100 biggest economies are now TNCs, nearly all of them based in the industrialized countries.
This increase in the export of capital has been accompanied by the reorganization of production where monopoly firms fragment and disperse different stages of their operations globally in order to exploit the cheapest labor, raw materials and other inputs. As a result the overwhelming majority of underdeveloped countries remain consigned to the extraction of raw materials or low-tech semi-manifacturing for export to the advanced capitalist countries. Imperialism has used the WTO in further coopting various neocolonial ruling elites to prevent the emergence of any sort of “Third World solidarity” in the mold of the New International Economic Order (NIEO).
The WTO stands as the most comprehensive and far-reaching instrument for promoting neoliberal globalization and strengthening monopoly capitalist control over the global economy and the world’s resources including food, health/medicines, water, land, forests, infrastructure, technology and even knowledge. By tightening the stranglehold of giant corporations based in the imperialist countries and their partners in the South over the production and distribution of virtually all goods and services, the WTO has also inflicted hunger, joblessness, precarity, environmental catastrophe, and denied access to basic services and other essentials for living a life of dignity for the vast majority of humanity.
But by facilitating and accelerating the concentration of wealth in the 1% and impoverishing the working masses, the WTO has also contributed to worsening the crisis of overproduction in the global capitalist system. The world economy has been in a protracted depression since the global financial crisis erupted in 2007 and debt-fueled financialization has proven inadequate to maintain monopoly capitalist profits. Indeed, it is creating the conditions for another and more severe global financial crisis.
The worsening global crises sharpen the insatiable drive of monopoly capitalists to exploit the world’s labor, natural resources and markets, to extract superprofits and accumulate capital. Hence the struggle among the imperialist countries to secure their respective shares of the sources of raw materials and cheap labor, investment fields and markets is also intensifying.
The stagnation in the imperialist centers on the one hand and the economic growth of China and a few other “emerging economies” on the other hand, has offset the ability of the imperialist powers to solely determine the agenda at the WTO. This has led to a protracted impasse in the current round of negotiations in the WTO, the so-called Doha Development Round which was launched as far back as 2001.
Above all, the people’s resistance has been key to preventing the WTO from being able to fully meet its purpose of facilitating ever-larger imperialist exploitation and plunder. The WTO has served as a unifying target for people’s struggles worldwide over the past several decades of neoliberal “globalization”.
The ILPS has been at the forefront of people’s resistance to the WTO ever since the League was formed. Indeed, the plan to form the ILPS was made public at the People’s Assembly Against the WTO organized by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in November 28, 1999 in Seattle, USA. The denial of permit to the Rally-March of the aforesaid assembly resulted in a protest picket that served as prelude to more protest marches, which led further to the Battle of Seattle that paralyzed the WTO Conference.
ILPS members have conducted mass education and campaigns to expose and oppose the implementation of WTO agreements at the national level as well as led militant protest actions at the international level demanding the dismantling or junking of this imperialist institution. ILPS members were at the front lines of people’s protests that blockaded the WTO Ministerial meetings in Cancun (2003), Hong Kong (2005) and Bali (2013).
US imperialism is counter-maneuvering with new “free trade agreements” such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These so-called 21st century trade agreements threaten to erect and entrench a legal framework for global corporate rule and facilitate corporate exploitation of the working people. These mega regional agreements flout binding international labor rights conventions while ensuring greater incentives, rights and protections for investors. These are largely politically motivated schemes to institute new rules on trade to maintain full spectrum dominance of US finance and corporate monopolies through a renewed scheme of neocolonization of emerging rivals that if successful would subject foreign governments to these monopolies.
But the imperialist states are not about to abandon the WTO anytime soon. Indeed the US, EU, Japan and other developed countries want the upcoming 10th Ministerial Conference (MC10) this 15-18 December 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya to commence negotiations on “new issues” – which are really old proposals that these imperialist powers have long been seeking to impose as new rules on trade and investments binding on all countries. These include further investment liberalization (especially in services and government procurement), further tariff liberalization, removal of “non-tariff barriers” (i.e. deregulation) and strengthening intellectual property rights of TNCs.
These would further strengthen the ability of TNCs to operate within and across borders and “legally” deprive developing countries of their remaining policy tools that are necessary for promoting sustainable development and realizing people’s rights.
Therefore as the imperialists celebrate the 20th anniversary of the WTO, the ILPS calls on all its members and allied organizations to mount militant protest actions against the WTO, FTAs and imperialist globalization on the opening day of the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference on December 15, 2015.
Furthermore, the ILPS calls on its members to conduct more in-depth research and education on current neoliberal attacks of imperialists including their new thrusts in the WTO and FTAs. Likewise we must also produce education materials and conduct mass education on peoples’ alternatives to the existing monopoly capitalist system including an alternative framework for international economic cooperation based on solidarity, mutual benefit and respect of peoples’ sovereignty.
20 Years of the WTO is Enough!
Junk WTO Now!
Fight Imperialist Globalization!”