For twenty-six years, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been a lynchpin of the current international economic order created and maintained by US imperialism. It has facilitated the further liberalization of underdeveloped economies in the South, expanded global value chain operations that worsened labor conditions for the toiling masses, and ultimately served the interests of super monopolies. Even at the time of Covid and the climate emergency, the WTO remains consistent in its foundational impulse to constantly enhance and reinvent neoliberal globalization to further profits at the expense of peoples’ rights. Even as the 12th Ministerial Meeting scheduled in Geneva on November 30 – December 3, 2021 was postponed due to the emergence of new Covid 19 variant, negotiations continue.
The International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) joins militant mass movements from across the globe in the global protest action on November 30, 2021 and calls for an end to the WTO and for a People’s Alternative on Global Trade.
On the TRIPS Waiver
At the center of discussions in MC12 is the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) which plays a crucial role in allowing big pharmacies to profit from Covid-19 vaccine production. By insisting that COVID-19 vaccines remain under the control of Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson under their TRIPS-mandated 20-year monopoly patents, the WTO has effectively restricted access to these life-saving vaccines especially for countries who need it the most.
South Africa and India proposed a waiver of the WTO patent rules for COVID-19 back in October 2020. The waiver is meant to provide immediate relief for underdeveloped economies by suspending patent rights under TRIPS and allowing the thriving generic medicine industries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to manufacture vaccines without paying for exorbitant royalties to big pharmaceutical corporations. Waiving the TRIPS early on in the pandemic would have democratized vaccine production globally and could have prevented at least 2 million deaths in impoverished populations. Waiving the TRIPS could have prevented the outbreak of the more infectious and virulent new Omicron Covid 19 variant that was first reported in South Africa. The ILPS supports this fight as part of third world solidarity against US imperialism and its allies who are criminally responsible for the deaths of millions during this time of the pandemic. Nevertheless, we remain cognizant that the TRIPS and its obscene insistence on monopoly patent rights is just one of many pieces of the WTO’s complex neoliberal architecture that needs to end today.
On the WTO AoA and Fisheries Subsidies
Trade in agricultural products was not regulated prior to WTO in 1995. Under the WTO, underdeveloped countries were to make a cut of 24 percent on all tariffs on agricultural products over 10 years, while rich nations, especially the USA and the EU, were allowed to boost subsidies to their agriculture sectors, poor countries were restricted from the same practice. This resulted in the deluge of cheap agricultural produce in low-income countries effectively destroying domestic agricultural industries.
Agri-business transnational corporations from rich industrialized countries played a powerful role in the negotiations for the WTO AoA, pushing for privatization of lands and waters, the right to patent traditional seeds, and to introduce genetically-modified crops and animals. The WTO AoA resulted in greater land grabbing, displacement, loss of livelihoods, the theft of traditional and indigenous seeds, and impoverishment of billions of farmers and Indigenous Peoples.
In the case of India, agricultural imports tripled in value and by 2.7 times in volume between 1996 and 2004. Poor farmer suicide in India increased to 2500 cases during this period. Many were forced to migrate to urban areas to take on unskilled jobs. Agriculture’s share in GDP as well as in its overall workforce was reduced significantly. The impacts we saw in India is similar to what has been happening in other parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa, as Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) destroyed the already struggling agricultural sectors of the developing world. People’s organizations and social movements have been consistent in calling for an end to the WTO and its Agreement on Agriculture – a death sentence for farmers and Indigenous Peoples.
Central to MC12 negotiations this year is the 20-year-old fisheries subsidies discussion under the AoA. Current proposals are centered on talks to limit subsidies for illegal and overfished stocks – a proposal blocked by the US and its allies for its potential to reduce subsidies to commercial fishers. The agreement also has implications on subsidies for activities in disputed waters which is a territorial issue many countries in Asia such as the Philippines considers important. The ILPS stands with the underdeveloped countries in demanding an end to unbridled support for commercial fishers at the expense of small-scale and artisanal fishers.
The Synergistic impact of multiple WTO Agreements on Peasantry and the Urban Poor
The corporate capture of imperialist countries across various segments of agriculture and food production through combined impacts of the AoA, TRIPS, the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures and the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) have resulted in extreme pauperization and misery of the small and landless farmers. These impacts are extremely evident in the dairy and livestock sector. The corporate takeover of this sector using the facade of health and hygiene is forcing farmers, especially women farmers into extreme debt, increasing hunger and malnutrition and escalating urban migration across the neo-colonial countries.
On Expanding the WTO Agenda
Since Seattle, the US and its allies have been desperately trying to impose new agreements on various rules that are beyond the WTO’s mandate including trade facilitation, government procurement and trade and investment among others. In order to address the difficulties in reaching consensus on a multilateral platform, global corporations and rich nation governments have started plurilateral negotiations – ‘coalitions of the willing’ – inside the WTO even if these are beyond its mandate. These aim to create a smaller consensus which would then be imposed on the whole WTO.
Attempts to expand the WTO agenda continues even today as trade ministers and country negotiators advance these same controversial topics in various fronts: inside the WTO as “plurilateral negotiations” and outside the WTO as “free trade agreements” such as RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement). The ILPS stands with the working peoples’ resistance against these attempts to further entrench the global South in a quagmire of relentless liberalization, deregulation and privatization.
On Massive Resistance to the WTO
Global resistance against the WTO is part and parcel of the people’s struggle against imperialism and reaction. ILPS salutes the mass movements of small farmers, women, workers and indigenous communities who have resolutely opposed the WTO’s neoliberal offensives in agriculture, industry and services for over 20 years.
The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed the gross inequalities between the rich and the poor and between men and women. It has further revealed the underlying multiple crises of the global capitalist system: the economic, political and environmental crises which brought the world to the health crisis we are facing today. Now more than ever, the time is ripe for a new global economic system based on solidarity, mutual benefit and respect for national and people’s sovereignty; a new global order that ensures full and decent employment for all, food sovereignty, land to the tillers, safe and healthy environment, democratic rights and just peace.
The ILPS calls on all its members and allied organizations to mount militant protest actions in their own countries against the WTO and neoliberal globalization. We call on peoples of the world to join us in the fight against US imperialism and struggle for a people’s alternative to the current capitalist system.
End the WTO Now!
Down with neoliberalism and imperialism!
28 November 2021