September 27, 2021 — Today, 206 major civil society groups—including global union federations, development advocates, women’s groups, consumer organizations, and environmental groups—representing millions of people from more than 170 countries delivered a statement, “Turnaround: New Multilateral Trade Rules for People-Centered Shared Prosperity and Sustainable Development,” one of the most comprehensive and detailed trade policy statements ever from such as large group of organizations, to members of the World Trade Organization.
The statement was co-ordinated by the Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network. In the statement, the groups called for “a new vision for multilateralism [which] is necessary in order to create the necessary jobs, infrastructure, and services that are essential to achieve the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], and also to safeguard our planet for future generations.” Civil society organizations will be taking their messages to negotiators in Geneva this week through a dozen events on these issues at the WTO Public Forum, which can be accessed for free virtually here.
"Already before the pandemic, the need to ‘build back better’ from the Great Recession was clear, leading to popular calls for a Green New Deal, fair taxation, and a just transition from fossil capitalism to a greener, caring economy. On many fronts, Canada’s negotiating position at the WTO takes us further away from achieving these objectives, by doubling down on the corporate trade model that strips governments of the policy flexibility they will need to develop sustainably and within the carrying capacity of this planet,” says Stuart Trew, director of the CCPA’s Trade and Investment Research Project.
The CCPA is one of nine Canadian NGOs to endorse the statement, including the Canadian Fair-Trade Network, MiningWatch, National Farmers Union, National Union of Public and General Employees, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, Quebec Network on Continental Integration (RQIC), Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for Citizen Aid (ATTAC), and the Council of Canadians.
Civil society, and over 100 governments around the world, have called on the WTO to focus on the urgent need to end the global Covid-19 pandemic by ensuring access to vaccines, treatments, and tests for all, by ending the “vaccine apartheid” which is enforced by WTO rules on intellectual property. Today’s statement reinforces that demand, highlighting that myriad existing harmful rules in the WTO must be transformed, while efforts to expand the failed WTO model through corporate-driven “plurilaterals” must be halted. Governments will take decisions on these matters at the 12th Ministerial meeting of the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, November 30 – December 3, 2021.
The statement also states that “in the interim, governments must make transformational changes to existing rules while a fundamentally new institution is envisioned. The WTO rules too often limit governments’ ability to use traditional development policies—which were used by all industrialized countries in their development—to promote jobs and domestic industries. Despite hypocritical claims by developed countries and global elites in the WTO, they have stalled the resolution of the development agenda in the WTO for nearly 20 years. Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) rules must be strengthened and operationalized for all developing countries, focusing on freedom from existing harmful WTO rules which limit the use of evidence-based development policies. Immediately, this would mean that governments would enjoy policy space to ensure domestic food security; to utilize technology transfer and data rights; to make use of job-creating performance requirements such as local content and local labor requirements; and have more flexibility to ensure affordable access to medicines, among other urgent priorities.”
The statement further calls for “an immediate halt to efforts to expand the scope and coverage of existing harmful rules, or to expand them to new arenas. In particular, our governments must halt the effort by Big Tech corporations to use the WTO to gain new pro-corporate rights in the digital economy, and to handcuff appropriate regulatory oversight. We call for a stop to the efforts: to deregulate the entire digital economy through the inappropriately named “e-commerce” negotiations; to bring more disciplines on investment policies through “investment facilitation” negotiations; to further encroach on regulatory sovereignty through “domestic regulation” negotiations; to restart talks on services liberalization; and to efforts to limit development flexibilities in the fisheries subsidies negotiations. Corporate boosters are undertaking these negotiations through “plurilateral” negotiations which are illegal under the WTO because they have no mandate, as most developing countries are opposed to them—for good reason.”
The statement then details dozens of specific rules in the WTO that must be urgently changed, in each of the areas of the WTO’s rulemaking. The statement concludes that “there are many more changes that must be made to the global trading system, including a fundamental review, abrogation, or transformation of bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements. The above represent a minimum of immediate changes that must be made in the multilateral trade system to provide more policy space for all countries to implement solutions towards promoting shared prosperity for the benefit of all.”
You can read the letter here.