WTO deal endangers environment, development - EU and US demanded high price for empty concessions

August 1, 2004

Geneva (Switzerland)/Brussels (Belgium)/ Washington D.C. (US). After negotiators reached an agreement late yesterday in Geneva to rescue World Trade Organisation talks, Friends of the Earth International, the world largest grassroots environmental network, said that the deal for a negotiating framework was the result of undemocratic procedures and intense pressure that rich countries exerted on developing countries.

Friends of the Earth warned that the deal establishes an agenda for further negotiations that could threaten people and the environment worldwide. In a rush to secure a deal governments turned a blind eye to potential environmental and social implications of the package.

Friends of the Earth believes that the agreement on Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) continues to threaten harm to the environment and developing country economies. The agreement proposes to include effectively all natural resources for either partial or complete liberalisation. (1) Despite the addition of some ambiguous language in the NAMA agreement on the concerns of developing countries, developing countries could face the loss their ability to use national policies to promote development. If adopted, WTO negotiations could further deepen the deindustrialisation crisis in these countries, thus accelerating unemployment and poverty and forcing countries to rely more heavily on unsustainable and harmful exports of natural resources.

The agreement also puts undue pressure on developing countries to open up service sectors. Friends of the Earth believes these negotiations pose a threat to the ability of countries to regulate basic services in the pursuit of social and development goals. The WTO framework agreement ignores civil society calls to exempt essential services, such as education, water, health, and energy. (2)

The so called concessions by the EU and US in the agricultural negotiations turn out to be empty promises, according to Friends of the Earth. The commitment to eliminate export subsidies credits is missing any substance as no end date is mentioned in the text. On domestic support for agriculture, language in the framework agreement clearly
opens the door for the EU and US to maintain nearly their entire level of current subsidies and to use these to continue the dumping of agricultural goods in developing country markets. At the same time, developing countries could be forced to give up import protections used to achieve food sovereignty.

Friend of the Earth also criticised the extremely secretive and closed process used for negotiations in Geneva, including the exclusion of many country negotiators from key negotiating sessions and the complete barring of non-governmental organisations from the negotiating venue.

David Waskow of Friends of the Earth US said: 'The WTO process is completely undemocratic, and this framework agreement is the result. If the WTO proceeds on the course just laid out, these negotiations will pose a serious threat to people and the environment around the world.’

‘Governments are trading away our environment at the WTO. Already today, the WTO is used as a weapon against environmental protection and public health. With this deal, even more environmentally and socially sensitive sectors will be liberalised. Corporate lobby groups will be the big winners, the environment and the poor the big losers.’ Alexandra Wandel of Friends of the Earth Europe commented. (3)

(1) All you need to know about NAMA: Why NAMA threatens development and environmen t (PDF)

(2) Stop the GATS! WTO's General Agreement on Trade and Services will undermine social and environmental sustainability (PDF)

(3) Based on already existing WTO agreements, a US led coalition is using the WTO to undermine countries rights to restrict trade in genetically modified organisms, See www.bite-back.org