The destruction of rural economies by the promotion of "free
trade" policies has generated a new type of protest,
as in the case of the Korean farmer Lee Kyung Hae. During
at demonstration in Cancun, Mexico, Lee took his own life.
In contrast to the images of despair and insanity showed by
the conservative media, Lee's gesture represents a conscientious
sacrifice against the oppression of millions of small farmers.
Since the foundation of the WTO, approximately 600 similar
deaths have been registered per year in India. Farm workers
prefer to die than to see their lands confiscated for not
being able to pay the costs of production, especially during
drought periods. For this reason, many protesters in Cancun
adopted the following slogan: "WTO kills farmers."
The World Trade Organization and Its Impacts
Maria Luisa Mendonça*
its creation in 1995, the main role of the World Trade Organization
(WTO) has been to expand its regulatory power in 145 countries,
which has translated into a great deal of influence in the
daily lives of millions of people. Though it preaches "free
trade" ideology, the WTO has a complex structure of regulations
to protect the interests of large corporations.
of these rules are described in an agreement known as TRIPS
(Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights), which regulates
intellectual property. This agreement has a broader reach
than the majority of local patent laws in the member countries,
and it mostly benefits the powerful North American pharmaceutical
industry. The strong hold over patents by a half a dozen corporations
is considered a third phase in the process of colonization,
which started in the period of territorial conquests between
the 15th and the 19th centuries, and evolved into the control
of financial markets in the last decades.
such as Brazil and South Africa challenged TRIPS to be able
to manufacture generic medication. This issue has been debated
since the United States government sued Brazil for offering
generic medication to treat HIV-positive patients. The Brazilian
victory in this case represented an important precedent against
patent regulations as stated by the WTO. Recently, the US
allied itself with India to fight against the availability
of generic drugs. The US proposal limits the manufacturing
of generic medicine to cases of public health risks, and to
the treatment of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
agreements also create a monopoly of food production. According
to such agreements, large companies have the power to control
genetic resources, such as indigenous knowledge of native
grains like corn,
rice and beans.
controversial topic is the opening of the service industry
to multinational corporations through an agreement called
GATS (General Agreements on Trade in Services). The result
of these policies is the privatization of public services,
which resulted in a hike in unemployment and a decrease in
investments in strategic sectors of the economy. In Brazil,
the failure of this model became evident during last year's
severe energy crisis.
trade" policies also resulted in the creation of strict
regulations against the control of foreign investments, including
prohibiting governments from protecting public health and
theory, the WTO should create a balance in trade relations
between Northern and Southern countries. But the WTO negotiations
are always threatened with failure. The only way to avoid
a new stalemate inside the WTO would be:
1. if industrialized countries stopped protecting their own
industries and economies; or
2. if "marginalized" countries definitively surrender
to the rules imposed by rich nations.
with this dilemma, and with growing protests by grassroots
movements, it will be difficult for the WTO to reestablish
WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico, from September 9-13, 2003,
was considered a fiasco by conservative sectors and a success
by social movements. The goal of the organizations who led
the protests in Cancun was "to derail the WTO" -
and it really happened.
result was not expected by US trade representative Robert
Zoellick. One day before the WTO meeting he announced: "We
want ambitious results, we are not here to only agree on paper.
We want open markets." However, the US government left
Cancun without reasons to celebrate.
social movements recognized the importance of the impasse
generated by the proposals for agriculture. The G-21, a group
of over 21 countries (including Mexico, Argentina, Brazil,
China, India, South Africa and Egypt) resisted the US and
the European Union's demands for unconditional opening of
their markets. The G-21contains 63% of agricultural producers
in the world.
despite its political relevance, the G-21's agenda is considered
"defensive" by many grassroots organizations. It
limits itself to advocating market access, and it does not
include proposals to strengthen internal markets, rural development,
and food sovereignty. In this context, the main concern is
to cut subsidies, but the problems caused by agricultural
monopolies are not questioned.
defend our countries' rights to support and promote their
own agricultural sectors, because they are the pillars of
the quality of life for large sectors of our populations,
for our land and environmental balance, and for our ability
to define priorities and trade strategies," explains
Paul Nicholson, a representative of Via Campesina.
increase in exports does not mean better life conditions in
rural areas. With the implementation of NAFTA (North America
Free Trade Agreement), Mexico tripled its agricultural exports
and, at the same time, three million farm workers were ruined.
Currently, Mexico's corn production is controlled by large
multinational corporations. In Asia, the export of rice is
dominated by Cargill, which together with General Foods and
Nestle controls over 70% of the international food market.
destruction of rural economies by the promotion of "free
trade" policies has generated a new way of protesting,
as in the case of the Korean farmer Lee Kyung Hae. During
a demonstration in Cancun, Lee took his own life. In contrast
to the images of despair and insanity showed by the conservative
media, Lee's gesture represents a conscientious sacrifice
against the oppression of millions of small farmers. Since
the creation of the WTO, approximately 600 similar deaths
have been registered per year in India. Peasants prefer to
die than to see their lands confiscated for not being able
to pay the costs of production, especially during drought
periods. For this reason many protesters in Cancun adopted
the following slogan: "WTO kills farmers."
attempt to benefit large corporations does not happen only
in agricultural negotiations. The US and the European Union
also seek to privatize and weaken the public sectors through
agreements on services, investments, and governmental purchases.
More than 70 countries, lead by Malaysia, India, and Thailand,
formed an opposition group to these agreements in Cancun.
the Brazilian campaign against the Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA), the results of Cancun show that, behind the
"free trade" propaganda, these agreements hide a
dangerous trap. After more than 10 million voters expressed
their opposition to Brazil's participation in FTAA, our campaign
is asking the Brazilian government to leave the negotiations.
The real intentions of the US government became evident in
Cancun, and they serve as an example for those who still believe
in the FTAA.
Luisa Mendonça is a journalist and co-director of the
Social Network for Justice and Human Rights.