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The WTO, Developing Countries and the Media

by Kanaga Raja

Geneva, 18 Oct 2001 -- A European based non-government think tank and activist, The Research Centre and Information unit on Globalization (URFIG, the French acronym) in a press release has charged the western media of adopting a wall of silence and ignoring the opposition with slight differences, repeatedly expressed at various fora, by some 100 of the 142 members of the WTO and continuing to repeat the propaganda of the US and EU about the developing country support for the New Round with new issues.

In a press release, Dr. Raul Marc Jenner of the URFIG says that for the past 2-1/2 years, the rich countries led by the European Union, “seek to impose a new round of negotiations with a view to expanding the field of action of private corporations in areas which, up until today were protected by national or international legislation.”

For the past 2-1/2 years, with but slight differences, the 100 of the 142 WTO member countries have expressed their opposition to the idea of a new round and have asked for an evaluation of the existing agreements and of the ways in which they are being implemented, and for a review of these agreements as well as a reform of the WTO prior to any eventual new liberalisation phase. The response of rich countries has been characterised by the most radical of refusals.

This opposition between the North and the South was the cause of the failure of the WTO ministerial conference in Seattle, URFIG points out. In view of the fact that there has been no change in the positions taken by either the North or the South, such an opposition has the very real potential of bringing about the failure of the 4th ministerial conference which should, in principle, be held from the 9 to the 13 November in Doha.

Together with governments of the South and the NGOs of these countries, the press release said, the URFIG “deplores the conspiracy of silence” which has been organised by both the governments of the North and the majority of the Western media with regards to the stance of developing countries..

At a summit of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), held in Brussels (14-20 May), enormous pressure was exerted by the European Commission with a view to obtaining a declaration from these countries in favour of the new round. The LDCs refused to take any position whatsoever.

When they met in Zanzibar from 22 to 24 July, the LDCs declared that “the extent of the multilateral trade negotiations to come should take into account the incapacity of LDCs to either effectively participate in the negotiations concerning an extended agenda or to implement new obligations given the well-known limited capacity of LDCs”.

Such a refusal of a new round prompted the EU Commission to exert a new set of pressures.

Yet, the 49 LDCs have stood strong, confirming, in Abuja (Nigeria) where they gathered from 19-23 September, their refusal. This refusal was repeated once again on the 3 October in Geneva.

However, the majority of Western media has kept conspicuously silent about the stance taken by the poorest countries of the world. On the other hand, they have echoed the manipulative declarations made by the EU Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, declarations which, more than less, lead one into believing that he has been able to rally LDCs into the idea of a new round.

At the end of June and July and at the beginning of September, a set of informal meetings of the WTO General Council were held in Geneva.

During each of these meetings, the North-South divide with regards to the principle of a new round and the issue of an evaluation of the impacts of the existing agreements was very clearly demonstrated.

Yet, three times round, the media chose to ignore this opposition, choosing instead to relay the very comforting declarations made by the partisans of the new round. At best, they speak of “preliminary conditions” set by developing countries.

On 26 September, the Director General and the Chair of the WTO’s General Council presented a ministerial declaration draft proposal in which all of the expectations of rich countries are expressed whilst including none of the demands of developing countries.

Developing countries, URFIG says, have considered this document as a “dirty slap”.

Seemingly unaffected by such a declaration, the representatives of Europe and of the United States have themselves declared “that the text had received a warm welcome.”

Equally unaffected by the viewpoint of developing countries, the media has chosen to associate itself to this manipulation of public opinion by relaying the declarations made by Europe and the United States without indicating that they do not reflect at all the reality of the situations.

The WTO organised a meeting in Mexico (31/8 and 1/9) and in Singapore (13 and 14/10) gathering the delegates of the 17-21 member states which are more or less representative of the different categories of countries.

These meetings were organised in the hope of rallying the participants to the principle of a new round. Each time, the Europeans and the Americans announced the end of the resistance of the South. Each tine, they disguised the truth.  Each time, nothing but their optimistic declarations were relayed by the media.

To break this “wall of silence built by the Western media”, URFIG has drawn the attention of activists and NGOs in Europe and elsewhere to the TWN website (www.twnside.org.sg), where URFIG said that some of the declarations issued by the representatives of the countries of the South during the WTO’s General Council meeting held on the 2-3 October 2001 have been collected and posted by the Third World Network (www.twnside.org.sg).

The excerpts, URFIG points out, have been drawn “from texts which were distributed by the ambassadors of the countries.”

“The very evident discrepancies between the declarations made by, on the one hand, the EU and the United States and, on the other, developing countries, are, to say the very least, extremely striking,” Jennar comments. – SUNS4991

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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