New Internationalist

Hypocrisy, blackmail and power politics: same old WTO

poverty in india [Related Image]
India sought to buy and distribute food to the poor, outside of free-market mechanisms. The US and EU blocked this move. Dell Inc. under a Creative Commons Licence

The first global trade deal in 20 years has been a source of great celebration. The story goes that it’s a modest start but it’s got the World Trade Organization (WTO) back on track, maybe even adding US$1 trillion to the ailing global economy.

The agreement to ease barriers to trade took place in Bali after years of bitter disputes where Majority World countries have attempted to protect their agricultural and industrial sectors while allowing them to access markets in the rich world.

We are told that the so-called Bali package reflects the new world – symbolized by India’s hard-nosed negotiating to shape the deal. And, as always, the victors are the poorest people in the world.

But this story is deeply flawed. Certainly the scale of the ambition in Bali was much smaller than the establishment of all-out pro-corporate global government which the body tried to embrace 15 years ago. But the Bali WTO was characterized by hypocrisy, blackmail and power politics – just as it ever was.

First the hypocrisy. The centrepiece of the summit was the battle between the US and India. India’s widely supported position was that it be allowed to buy and distribute food to the poor, outside of free-market mechanisms. The US and EU blocked it, despite their own subsidy programmes. US subsidies are enormous and do effect international trade, unlike India’s.

What’s more, on two other packages, including trade in cotton, rich countries blocked free-trade solutions that would have been beneficial for developing countries. Such hypocrisy is actually built into trade rules, where rich countries have negotiated to be allowed to keep high levels of subsidies simply by stating they don’t distort trade, and by having had higher subsidies to begin with.  

At the WTO, free trade is good for the poor, but the rich live by a different set of principles.

Bribery and blackmail have always been a part of WTO negotiations. This time, rich countries held out the promise of a special package of measures to support Least Developed Countries. The package itself is extremely modest, benefiting these countries little in practice. But it was better than nothing. Disgracefully, its passage was used as a bargaining chip to get low-income countries onside.

What’s more, huge effort by the US and EU was put into making it appear that India stood alone – a belligerent country being totally unreasonable. Actually, India was supported by a wide range of developing countries, which saw this as an issue of sovereignty.

So again, at base what you see at the WTO is power politics. The real prize for the EU and US was the ‘trade facilitation’ package – essentially reducing customs procedures. Again and again, this was sold as helping Africa, though African delegates didn’t seem to be pushing it too hard. Little wonder, as they, not the rich countries, will have to bear the work and cost.

Indeed, in the Bali package as a whole, it is developing countries that bear all the responsibilities. The rich can simply pick off the benefits.  

It’s not surprising, in an international forum representing most countries in the world, that politics between the powerful and powerless will be expressed. But the problem with the WTO is that the politics take place in an organization hard-wired to promote the interests of rich countries and big corporations. How absurd it is, as Indian delegation leader Anand Sharma told a press conference ‘that we can be condemned, by those who have signed the Millennium Development Goal to end world hunger, for speaking up for the poorest people on the planet?’

Ultimately, Bali follows the same pro-corporate logic as earlier negotiations. If you take the WTO together with the far-reaching trade deals on the agenda next year – the EU-US trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and a new Trade in Services Agreement – we are looking at the biggest shift in power from people to corporations in 20 years. The WTO provides the global model in which these very far-reaching deals will sit.  

Don’t be taken in by the hype. It’s the same old WTO, and it needs to be opposed.

Nick Dearden is director of the World Development Movement.

Comments on Hypocrisy, blackmail and power politics: same old WTO

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

  1. #1 eleni_aus 11 Dec 13

    In Australia we are just wondering as our tariff protection barriers have fallen over the years how little of our manufacturing industry is left to employ anyone - garment manufacture: gone; car manufacture: going going 2017 gone; food manufacturing where Australian fish goes to SE Asia for processing and is returned for sale; our woodchip increasingly goes offshore for processing into the paper we buy etc etc.
    And in agriculture, Australia's exports have been affected over the years by the warring elephants of the EU and the US ... Their subsidies far outstrip any assistance offered our farmers(now increasingly in the form of loans in extreme drought conditions or deposit schemes to encourage farmers to be able to overcome these phenomena)... Our animals and bulk grain are exported rather than processed foods ...And some are subject to high tariff barriers in both developed and developing countries alike sensitive to their own farmer vote or a decision in regard to food self-sufficiency in certain products etc ... and countries aware of the significant proportion of their population engaged in agriculture which, if displaced, would create massive problems internally...
    But Australia : what is this country to be? - a MINE (and ultimately a hole in the ground when finite energy and mineral resources - the LNG, coal, iron ore etc - are dug up and exported), and a source of bulk agricultural exports (animals, grains and some processed meats) whose dependence on natural resources such as pure water, quality soil etc may be threatened by the very mining processes that pushed the dollar up and helped destroy manufacturing ... .
    While the car industry is going and that means less government expenditure on subsidising it (as the industry is to a far greater extent in other developed countries etc) and Qantas looks like being unable to continue competing with airlines that are government owned or subsidised by petrodollars etc - its servicing that has meant it has had the best safety record will likely no longer exist in Australia ... And there is no guarantee that the freed up capital will flow to research or efficient domestic production of the patented inventions etc for which Australian researchers are famous... The private companies that fund research will ensure that ...
    What are Australians to do? We can't all be waiters or money shufflers in banks and insurance (oh, forgot their call centres are located overseas too) or miners or teachers of teachers ...
    The post-industrial age has arrived and its fruit is mixed ... with a distinct proportion of people less able to participate ... or benefit except by way of purchasing cheap clothes / car with their state benefits. But the cost of privatised power, water, transport etc continue to rise ...
    Whither Australia? The mine, farm and holiday spot for the wealthy of the upcoming regions of the world (if mining doesn't destroy the attractions)?
    Our scientists are amazing - but ignored; our researchers underfunded; our commercialisation underdeveloped ... And Thatcher appears to wish to continues to rule post-mortem on distant shores...

  2. #2 Communal Award 12 Dec 13

    Indian regime is spending $1 billion/year on space research when 50% of its children are malnourished.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

About the author

Nick Dearden a New Internationalist contributor

Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now (formerly World Development Movement) and former director of Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Read more by Nick Dearden

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Popular tags

All tags

New Internationalist Blogs

New Internationalist hosts several different blogs, from the Editor's Blog to the Majority World Blog, the Gaza Blog to the Books Blog

New Internationalist Blogs