Global Policy Forum

Doha to Johannesburg


By Victor Menotti

Focus on Trade
December 2001

In November of 2001, trade ministers from 140 nations gathered in Doha, Qatar to give the World Trade Organization (WTO) an historic new mandate that could intensify the burning of fossil fuels, the logging of native forests, the depletion of fisheries, the use of toxic chemicals, and the release of genetically-modified organisms. Despite public opposition worldwide, the WTO has obtained even more powers than before, declaring itself the institution that will unilaterally determine fundamental questions about the fate of the planet's natural systems and the billions of poor people who depend on them for survival.

Despite rhetoric about poverty alleviation and sustainable development, the ministerial's official statement (known as the Doha declaration) gives the WTO new powers to restrain governments from regulating the behavior of global corporations. By declaring itself the arbiter of planetary natural resource crises (starting with fisheries) and the fora for determining the relationship between conflicting international agreements on trade and environment, the Doha agenda throws down a direct challenge to preparations for the August 2002 United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Because the WTO protects the rights of global corporations over all other arenas of peoples' sovereignty (from village meetings to national parliaments, and now, apparently, even to other international treaties), the Doha agenda is not only an attack on the poor and the planet, but on the very idea of democracy itself.

The WTO's new mandate covers questions whose answers will ultimately define our common future. If left unchallenged, the question of global governance will have been resolved by the WTO's declaring itself the arbiter of all things. The global corporations shaping WTO rules will define the futures of countless small farmers, fisher peoples, forest dwellers, indigenous peoples, and others whose survival depends on access to, and control over, the natural resources that exist in local commons worldwide. Threats to these traditional peoples' sustainable livelihoods are inherent to the Doha agenda.

The Doha agenda has empowered the WTO to:

· increase corporate control over natural resources by allowing decisions about their use to be driven even more closely by the short-term demands of global financial markets;
· intensify export-based farming, forestry, and fishing, as well as fossil fuels burning, mining, and other natural resource exploitation;

· eliminate more conservation and community development policies as unfair "barriers" to trade;
· determine who captures the remnants of the world's collapsing natural resources, starting with the planet's depleted fisheries;
· subordinate multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) to the rights of corporations enshrined in the WTO rules.

An Illegitimate Process

The Doha agenda was the result of an illegitimate process made possible by a number of factors, including the WTO's insulating itself from the pressures of civil society in the ultimate "back room": the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar, where US and EU trade negotiators could focus on dividing and conquering well-organized resistance from poor countries. Delegates from poor countries arrived in Doha opposing any WTO expansion until problems with existing WTO rules were first changed. They brought detailed lists of demands, but the United States and the European Union largely dismissed them to an "addendum" text that was made separate from the final statement. A mysterious cocktail of promised favors and threatened aid packages, all made in the new geopolitical context of post-September 11, played an important role in neutralizing opposition to the US agenda. After a marathon negotiating session that lasted until dawn, a handful of "green men" (implying that the WTO's untransparent process of using a so-called "green room" to forge consensus had now become even more opaque) produced a final text. With most nations having no option but to go along, the Doha deal was sealed. It is an indicting commentary in itself to observe how the system of global corporate rule, embodied by the WTO, depends on using brutal negotiating tactics and the bullying of weary delegates.

Below is a breakdown of the Doha Ministerial's final declaration by:

I. New Mandates: An Anti-Sustainable Development Agenda

1. Trade & Environment: Subordinating multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs);
2. Market Access: Global Agreements on Free Logging, Fishing, and Mining;
3. Anti-Dumping: When cheap imports kill;
4. Subsidies: Can WTO be trusted with the world's fisheries?

II. Disputed Mandates: The "Singapore" Issues

1. Investment: Return of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI);
2. Government Procurement: Losing control over how to spend tax-dollars;
3. Competition: Breaking up publicly-owned enterprises, not global monopolies

I. New Mandates: An Anti-Sustainable Development Agenda

1. Trade and Environment: Subordinating multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs)

In perhaps the WTO's most direct threat to sustainable development and the entire Rio/Johannesburg process, the final Doha declaration expands the WTO's mandate to unilaterally determine its relationship to the trade sanctions that enforce multilateral environmental agreements. MEAs with trade measures include:

· the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Chemicals;
· the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change;
· the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES);
· the Basel Convention on the Trade in Hazardous Waste;
· the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (GMOs); and
· the POPs Treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

When taken in the context of the trade ministers' instructions for negotiations, the Doha mandate to "clarify" the relationship between two international systems of law can only be understood as a move to subordinate multilateral environmental agreements to the rights of corporations enshrined in the WTO. As specified in the Doha declaration, negotiations will take place under WTO auspices, with:

· Trade, not Environment, Ministers leading negotiations;
· MEA Secretariats being given only "observer" status, apparently so they can watch while the treaties they administer are eviscerated;
· No "prejudged" outcomes. Although later in the text it deems that the outcomes "shall not add to or diminish the rights and obligations of Members under existing WTO agreements," which would seem to imply that, since no trade rules can be changed, then it can only be the MEAs that will be modified.

Clashes between the two bodies of international law have become increasingly apparent, and trade minister want to "resolve" the conflicts before any real troubles erupt. Consider:

· The Convention on Biological Diversity's Biosafety Protocol contradicts with WTO rules on what governments can do to regulate GMOs. Where the MEA says governments have the right to ban imports of GMOs if they suspect damaging impacts, the WTO's Agreement on Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Measures restricts governments from taking such precautionary measures if they do not have conclusive scientific evidence of harm.
· The Kyoto Protocol's implementation, via increasing the required fuel efficiency of autos in some nations, has been threatened with WTO challenges on the grounds that such measures would "discriminate" against imports;
· The Convention on the Law of the Sea's so-called "Straddling Stocks" Treaty (to protect migratory fish species, the direct result of a call made at the Rio Earth Summit) has been thrown into question when the European Union threatened Chile with a WTO challenge for blocking Spanish ships from landing swordfish that had been caught in violation of the treaty. · The Basel Convention on the Trade in Hazardous Waste, which encourages domestic handling of toxic materials before exporting them, has been under scrutiny for violating NAFTA investment rules that are now being proposed in the WTO

For anyone who believed that free trade rules would never directly threaten the process of international environmental policymaking, Doha should not be read as simply a smoking gun, but a declaration of war. The Johannesburg process will be a critical vehicle to challenge the WTO's attempt at usurping global governance.

2. Market Access

The WTO's market access agenda combines two dangerous impacts that undermine natural resource conservation and sustainable livelihoods: 1) the expansion of exports to wasteful consumers; 2) the elimination of legal protections that ensure sustainable natural resource use and local communities who depend on them. The forestry, fishing, and farming sectors are particularly impacted. Negotiations are broken down by the elimination of tariffs (import taxes) and so-called Non Tariff Measures, or NTMs.

a. Eliminating Tariffs

Forest tariffs were an issue of great concern to protesters in Seattle, as ministers had prepared to finalize a deal that week. Popularly known as the "Global Free Logging Agreement," forest conservationists succeeded in getting the USTR to publish its first ever environmental assessment of trade liberalization, released just before the 1999 Ministerial. In the report, which was done by a timber industry-funded group, trade officials buried the real findings: tariff reductions would result in increased logging in some of the world's most threatened original forests inhabited by indigenous peoples. Cutting tariffs reduces wood prices for consumers, in turn stimulating more wasteful consumption, especially in the rich nations where tariffs are highest. WTO tariff elimination could undermine efforts to reduce wood and other resource consumption, a priority identified by the 1992 UN Rio Earth Summit. Yet the Johannesburg preparatory report by the UN Secretary-General hails the WTO's Doha agenda a "success."

Lowering tariffs in the absence of adequate safeguards for marine ecosystems and fisher peoples could accelerate the death spiral of the world's fish stocks and fishing communities. Although the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports increasingly dire news about dwindling stocks, no assessment has been done on the health impacts on fish stocks that are being prioritized for tariff elimination. Nor has anyone even consulted the fishing communities themselves, such as the National Forum of Fishers in India, or the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations in the US, about what issues they want addressed in trade policy. It seems the only ones who are aware of the WTO fisheries agenda are the very importers, processors, and distributors who are driving the trade agenda for market access via the WTO. In addition to forest and fish products, tariff cuts are being discussed for minerals, fuels, chemicals, and other "non-agricultural products." Without any clue as to the impacts of expanding trade in these controversial commodities, the WTO is putting the planet's future at risk.

b. Eliminating Non Tariff Measures (NTMs)

NTMs are considered to be any government measure, policy, or practice that has the effect of "distorting" trade. Fishing NTMs can include measures such as harvesting restrictions, bans on destructive gear, embargoes on species suspected of disease or illness, residency requirements (fish here, live here), or even ecolabels. APEC has already surveyed the various NTMs in Pacific Rim markets, with a view to taking it to the WTO as a framework for negotiations on market access. Governments have yet to make the APEC NTM report public, as it could reveal a laundry list of regulatory measures being targeted for elimination via WTO negotiations.

Forest NTMs are also broadly defined as any measure that "distorts" trade. Even measures that have a "potential" to impact trade, such as ecolabels, are under the WTO microscope. APEC has inventoried so-called NTMs in the forestry, and other sectors, throughout the 34 nations of the Pacific Rim. The USTR plans to also use this laundry list as a "negotiating framework" for market access talks in Geneva. In the midst of Seattle's teargas and police riots, forest activists managed to extract a written commitment from the White House that forest conservation measures would be defended in trade negotiations. Not only does the Bush White House need to follow through with that promise but other governments need to take up similar positions for less cross-deregulation that will "discipline" everything from harvesting restrictions to residency requirements to endangered species protections.

The NTM agenda is the final push to remove all government control from regulating natural resources like fisheries, where any policy objective, such as conservation or community development, is made subservient to expanding trade.

3.Anti-Dumping: When Cheap Imports Kill

It is no secret that the international trading system is currently seeing a proliferation of complaints about dumping, which is the practice of exporting a product at a price lower than it can be produced. As global recession deepens, nations are intensifying their promotion of exports to keep their economies afloat. In reaction, importing nations are imposing tariffs and quotas (so-called anti-dumping measures) to control the flood of cheap products that are driving domestic producers out of business. But the WTO sets strict rules on what measures governments can take, and under what conditions, to stem the tide of damaging imports.

The Doha declaration set forth negotiations "aimed at clarifying and improving disciplines" under the WTO Agreements on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures, also known as the "Anti-Dumping Agreement." Although heavily pushed in Doha by developing nations who are frustrated with US attempts to block imports of steel and textiles, small producers in many nations (especially the poorest) will be the victims of stronger WTO rules that prevent nations from regulating imports.

While loathed as "protectionist" by free traders (indeed, the thrust of the Doha declaration's opening paragraph is to "reject the use of protectionism") anti-dumping measures are also sometimes necessary for protecting the livelihoods of the poor and of ecologically sustainable practices. Though today's anti-dumping headlines focus on the conflicts in steel and textiles, other commodities and natural resources are experiencing similar crises.

From forestry to fisheries to farming, millions of people around the world whose survival depends on directly accessing natural resources (for their own subsistence or for small-scale production) are threatened by cheap imports. Compared to industrial, export-oriented production, many of these small-scale producers employ traditional management practices that distribute resources more equitably and are more sustainable for natural systems.

· Forestry: First Nations peoples of Canada, small mill workers in the US, salmon, grizzlies, and forest ecosystems across North America are just some of the victims of Canada's dumping softwood lumber in the US market. With few laws regulating destructive forestry practices and public land timber available at below market cost, it is easy to see why Canada supplies one-third of US consumption. US efforts to limit Canadian imports are now being challenged at the WTO by Canada. The logic of free trade becomes even more twisted if one follows the patterns of international trade. Japan's oldest and largest forest products producer, the Tajima Company, is about to be driven under by cheap imports from the US. Owner ShintaroTajima says he can no longer deliver logs to Tokyo harbor cheaper than those arriving by ship from Seattle, where exporting logs across the Pacific is made profitable only by subsidized transport costs.
· Fishing: From Sri Lanka to California, fishing communities who practice sustainable harvesting methods are threatened by cheap imports. Sri Lankan fisher people can no longer sell their products since import barriers were lifted to allow industrial trawlers from other Asian nations to flood local markets. Salmon fishermen along the Pacific Coast of the US can not compete with imports of farmed salmon from Chile, where export aquaculture that chews up coastal habitat and requires massive chemical inputs is being fought by local artisinal fishermen, indigenous peoples, workers, and conservationists.

The expansion of global trade and investment overseen by the WTO has created a crisis in rural communities everywhere, as fluctuating commodity prices destabilize communities and make impossible long-term planning for natural resources. For this reason, some nations are exploring the option of reviving international commodity agreements outside of the WTO. The steel industry is currently taking the lead, and it may prove a valuable lesson for other sectors. Regardless of how these experiments turn out, trade rules need to give communities and nations the right to do whatever is necessary to protect livelihoods and sustainable practices.

4.Subsidies for Fisheries

This item on the Doha agenda, which at first glance may appear innocuous if not helpful, could turn out to be the tip of a corporate iceberg bound for capturing the remnants of the planet's collapsing resources. While governments absolutely need to cut subsidies and reduce overcapacity in the fishing industry (too many boats chasing too few fish), the WTO is not the appropriate venue to handle this subject. Letting a trade body, whose main constituents are global trading firms and not people tied to the land and sea, decide which subsidies are allowable almost ensures that what happened to small farmers under WTO's last round will now be repeated with the world's small fishers.

Beyond WTO's well-documented history of cutting subsidies for the poor while further enriching the rich, the true WTO agenda for fisheries subsidies is revealed by who has been at the table in the discussion to date. Attempts by national networks of fisher peoples organizations to get to the table have been ignored, while the US trade association of importers, processors, and distributors (the National Fisheries Institute) has long been an official advisor to US trade negotiators. Few NGOs wanted to give the WTO anything that would expand its powers over new areas of policy making, let alone allow the WTO to greenwash its image. Yet that is exactly the spin out of Doha, as the WTO claims a "win-win" for trade and environment. The World Wildlife Fund seemed to play the leading role in putting fisheries subsidies on the WTO agenda, despite being informed repeatedly of the concerns of small fishermen's organizations.

The Doha text inserts the subject of fisheries subsidies under the section calling for the strengthening of the Agreements on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (Anti-Dumping). But it has no explicit conservation mandate, nor even an implied one. Indeed, its only specific directive is the "taking into account the importance of this sector to developing countries," which likely signals an orientation toward maximizing exports of fish products from poor countries, where, not coincidentally, rich countries are increasingly investing in fisheries because they have over-fished their own territories.

Subsidies discipline via the WTO is a subject also being considered by other natural resource industries, including forestry. The US forest industry has already asked the American government to document the role of subsidies in the global industry, building the case that other nations enjoy an unfair advantage. Depending on how the fisheries subject develops, other industries may be encouraged or discouraged from introducing their agenda into the WTO. One can compare it to asking hedge fund managers to design a new architecture for global finance. This prospect is precisely the danger of giving the WTO new mandates to sort out ecological crises that have been the direct results of export-oriented development policies.

II. New Mandates: An Anti-Sustainable Development Agenda Commonly known by the name of the place where rich nations first forced these issues onto the WTO agenda (the 1996 WTO Ministerial in Singapore), the official negotiating status of the so-called "Singapore issues" was unclear when trade ministers left Doha, and still no resolution is within sight. The "Singapore issues" include investment (i.e., the MAI), competition, government procurement, and trade facilitation. If negotiation of these issues is recognized as officially launched, the WTO may be able to prevent citizens from using their governments to regulate foreign investment or to channel tax dollars toward poverty alleviation and conserving natural systems. Liberating global capital from serving the needs of people and nature would represent the ultimate triumph for the world trade body whose very mission is to exclude civil society from shaping economic systems. If taken, these decisions would have great influence over the outcomes of Johannesburg on both private investment and public spending in the financing of development.

1. Investment: Return of the MAI

Currently, governments have the legal right (although not always the political leverage or will) to channel inward investment towards national development goals. These can include the nurturing of domestic industries, poverty alleviation programs, reinvesting profits domestically, or long-term planning of natural resource management. A WTO investment agreement is aimed at constraining these abilities of governments to control foreign capital. Capital controls are a necessary element of any sustainable development agenda. People need to retain the ability to control foreign direct investment (FDI) because global corporations are not guided by principles of sustainable development. Rather they are oriented toward satisfying the high expectations of unaccountable global investors. Global investors want to use the WTO to take away people's power use their governments to capture benefits from inward investment.

2. Government Procurement

The goods and services governments purchase are a key source of many nations' community empowerment programs, green purchasing guidelines, and labeling requirements. In some nations, government procurement can make up as much as two-thirds of GDP, so WTO disciplines over the way tax-dollars are spent can be a powerful way for corporations to penetrate new markets. The WTO Government Procurement talks are aimed at reducing the voice that citizens have over how their taxes are spent, such as purchasing recycled paper or natural gas vehicles, or contracting services with low-income communities. Policy tools for achieving ecologically sustainable, equitable development could become violations of WTO rules if this agenda item proceeds.

3. Competition

It could be useful if WTO lived up to its free trade principles and addressed the monopolistic practices of global corporations. But instead talks on "anti-competitive" measures will target public and private-owned entities that limit foreign competition in domestic markets. Critics fear that WTO's effort will only result in global corporations' deeper penetration into local markets of developing nations, further concentrating global corporate control over economies.


The Doha deal may some day come to be known as a declaration of silent war against the rights of people and the planet. It threatens poor peoples' access to and control over the very resources upon which their survival depends, deepening the spiral of exclusion that drives so many into insecurity and desperation. There is talk in the WSSD preparatory process of striking a "Global Deal" in Johannesburg. Any meaningful deal would have to initiate a people-driven process to transform international economic institutions. Otherwise, decision taken under WSSD will be undermined by the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, and the global corporations they serve.

While the cheerleaders of global free trade spin Doha's outcomes as a victory in the global war on poverty, and remain "convinced that trade and environment policies can and must be mutually supportive," the contradictions between the Doha and Johannesburg agendas become increasingly clear. WTO's mission of removing government, which is supposed to be the expression of popular will, runs counter to the original mission of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. With the very real prospect of global governance being usurped by transnational corporations via the WTO, civil society must use the Johannesburg process as a vehicle to defy the Doha agenda and intensify challenges to today's global economic institutions. Regardless of the WSSD's official outcomes, the peoples' process, as in Seattle, will and must ultimately replace the WTO with a truly democratic system that values life over money, and the rights of people over the rights of corporations.

Far from being finalized, global civil society's response to the Doha agenda has already been launched: grassroots organizations around the world will be using the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development as an organizing vehicle to beat back the Doha agenda. The Johannesburg's "peoples' process" will be just one of a number of convergences required to replace the WTO's bid for a corporate utopia with an international citizen's agenda that protects the poor and the planet. If not, Doha will be known as a pivotal point in history where global governance was truly usurped.

Victor Menotti directs the IFG's Environment Program.

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.