New Internationalist

Speak out… on trade justice

Issue 388

Cheong Jae Don, Korea

I am a farmer from Korea. We are against WTO policies which make the whole world a jungle, which turn everything into a struggle between rich and poor and which make everything a commodity.

During the past 10 years almost every item in Korea has been liberalized. As a consequence the number of farmers has halved but debts have increased fourfold. Many farmers are committing suicide out of desperation; the number is increasing. The national government is only concerned with market rules. That is why farmers are so frustrated. We want food and agriculture out of the WTO negotiations. We support diversity in the field of agriculture and respect for different types of agriculture so that we can protect food sovereignty and security.

Cheong Jae Don, President of Korea Farmers Solidarity

Sheila Kawamara Mishambi, Uganda

To me justice is ‘Do what you would like to have done to you’. I don’t see that trade justice is ever going to happen within the free market. I don’t see it happening within the WTO because it is simply full of big bullies. The US, the EU and Japan are ganging up against developing countries and arm-twisting them with bribery in the form of the promise of aid which is not even real. They are dangling a carrot for free trade and to me that is really injustice.

I think Africa should explore all opportunities of strengthening regional structures for trade, claiming policy space and occupying it. We need to decide what is good for African nations, what is Africa’s destiny, by ourselves first, before we invite external interference. Because right now policies, internal policies, are being subjected to multilateral decision-making which to me is very undemocratic and improper.

Sheila Kawamara Mishambi, MP in the East African Legislative Assembly

Edelio Vigna, Brazil

We want a system that is more just than the WTO, more just for workers. The trouble is we have government which is more attentive to the needs of the big landowners and industry than to the needs of underprivileged people.

Bilateral systems will always disadvantage poorer countries so we think its important to have a multilateral trading system with rules. But not the one we have at the moment. What’s the alternative? We believe that the alternative is in formation, it is being constructed. An alternative of all peoples, not an alternative that comes from just one country or one region.’

Edelio Vigna, environmental and social activist, REBRIP/INESC São Paulo

Shamina Nasrin, Bangladesh

I’m really worried about NAMA (Non-Agricultural Market Access). If it is implemented the women garment workers of Bangladesh will be the worst sufferers. We will lose our textile industries. It is not favourable to us. We will lose jobs. We want to keep our own industries.’

Shamina Nasrin, President of Shadil Bangla Garment Labour Employees Federation, Dhaka

Tatik, Indonesia

I work as a domestic here in Hong Kong to support my family in Indonesia. I am the eighth of nine children and my family depends on me for food, clothing, education – everything. The situation got much worse in my country after economic liberalization. Everything became very expensive – electricity, water, school fees.

Many of the migrants who come here are from villages where they cannot find work. But even those who have finished university come here because there is no work. In this way we really suffer the impact of the WTO. We cannot survive and improve our lives at home. That’s why we are here, we do not want to be here.

Some of us are treated well by our employers, many are not. The main problems are low pay and unfair dismissal. But there is physical abuse too. And the working hours can be very long. You go to bed at 1 or 2am and your employer expects you to be up at 6am.

Tatik, President of the Coalition of Migrant Workers in Hong Kong

Mary Robinson, Ireland

Is it possible to achieve trade justice within free market liberalism? It’s complicated but I don’t think we have any other choice. It’s the dominant world influence. What we need to do is try to make a linkage that doesn’t damage the whole fair trade movement, which I’m extremely sympathetic to. But I think if we try to make it an ‘either/or’ we are on to a loser. I think we have somehow to create space and have the flexibility that lets countries and communities develop.

Mary Robinson, former Irish President, current President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, and Honorary President of Oxfam International

Zwelinzima Vavi, South Africa

In my country we had apartheid. We struggled and finally we got rid of it. We did not think just a few years later we would have another apartheid. But this is what we have now. The apartheid of the rich and poor. Today it is better to be a cow living in Japan on seven dollars a day than to be a human being alive in Africa.

I want trade to play an important role in closing this gap between the rich countries of the North and poor nations of the South. But that is not what we are getting. I think that the trade rules are used to further impress economic domination.

It is very important to have multilateral rules because without them we allow the most powerful to impose trade agreements on the weak. But the rules must be fair; currently they are not fair.

Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions

Walden Bello, Thailand

I don’t think trade justice can be accomplished within the WTO because it is a free trade organization and it subordinates development to trade.

Walden Bello, Director of the Centre for the Global South, Bangkok

Thomas Kocherry, India

The WTO is an expression of greed. It must be destroyed. It has to go – it has no place for humanity – if humanity is to survive as a whole.

But I ask this question. Many people here are saying ‘Junk the WTO’ and using radical terminology. But are we effective enough to junk it? So many NGOs, especially environmental ones, are selling out to multinational corporations. The corporations are co-opting these movements so that they will lead to nowhere. Are we effective enough?

Thomas Kocherry, World Forum of Fisherpeoples / National Fisherworkers Forum of India, Kerala

Moussa Faye, Senegal

I think trade justice is about global trade rules that are fair to all countries, which means that these rules need to take account of the specific circumstances of poor countries and not apply a ‘one size fits all’ formula. Different treatment should be granted to developing countries and more flexibility for less developed countries.

This cannot be done under trade liberalization because trade liberalization is currently supported by a set of arguments and ideologies that believe that market extension is the solution to poverty, and that poor countries just need to open up their economy to the market and then wealth will flow into the countries and the poor will be lifted out of poverty. It’s a kind of fairy tale.

Moussa Faye, Country Director for Action Aid in Senegal

Wilson Fortaleza and Ethel Robis-Fortaleza, Philippines

We are worried about almost everything that’s being discussed at the WTO and how it will affect us. We are pretty concerned about NAMA [which will open up local fisheries and industries] and GATS. The main impact of GATS is to fast-track and expand the privatization of services. This has already happened with water and energy and prices soared as a result. Maybe healthcare is next?

We believe that public services – water, energy and health – should not be treated as tradable products. Public services are the very essence of government, the very essence of the state. If a state or government does not dispense public services any more what is its use? It’s just a tax collector to maintain a police state.

Wilson Fortaleza and Ethel Robis-Fortaleza, Jubilee South, Manila

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