Beyond the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong

Hong Kong will go down in history with Seattle and Cancun, both in terms of people’s resistance in the streets and the resistance of developing countries within. Total failure of the WTO Doha round was averted by the fig leaf of withdrawal of export subsidies in agriculture by 2013 (while most of the $ 400 billion subsidies of the rich country industrialized corporatised agriculture will remain) and the fig leaf of “aid-for-trade”.

The agreements on liberalization of services and industrial goods (NAMA) which had been totally rejected by the developing countries were sneaked in through a divide and rule policy of U.S and EU which have started to treat Brazil and India as “developed” thus splitting the unity of the G-20 forged in Cancun, and turning into a empty shell the new forged alliance of the G-20 and G-90. If the G-110 had negotiated as G-110, instead of merely announcing the grand alliance, services and NAMA would not have gone through.


My own involvement with GATT WTO began during the Uruguay Round because I could not ethically or intellectually accept the TRIPS agreement, which creates monopolies on seeds and medicines and forces countries to introduce patents on life. These abhorrent clauses of TRIPS were to be reviewed in the Doha Round. Para 19 of the Doha declaration specifically built into the work programme, the review of article 27.3(b) of TRIPS, which introduces patents on life, and a review of the whole of TRIPS under article 71.1. The mandatory review disappeared in Hong Kong. As is typical of the dismemberment processes intrinsic to WTO the review built into Article 27.3 (b) of TRIPS and para 19 of Doha finds no mention in the Hong Kong declaration. All that is mentioned is geographical indicators for wines and spirits. Patents on lifeforms and biopiracy of traditional knowledge are not mentioned even though these issues have been raised repeatedly in the TRIPS council. The Indian Commerce Minister did made an impassioned speech on biopiracy and traditional knowledge at the plenary, but the review that is necessary to stop monopolies on seeds and medicines.

The issue of the right to medicine was supposed to have been addressed in Doha in the public health declaration. However, the “permanent solution” for TRIPS and health in para 40 is making permanent a non-solution contained in the general council decision of 30 August 2003 on the implementation of para 6 of the Doha declaration on the TRIPS agreement and public health. This mechanism has not worked for any country.

The Doha Round cannot be considered complete without completion of the mandatory review. Article 71.1 mandates a review every two years. It also empowers the council for TRIPS to “undertake reviews in the light of any relevant new developments which might warrant modification or amendment of this agreement”.

New developments include the epidemic of biopiracy and the concentration of corporate control in agriculture and health care. As a recently released group by ETC (group.oligopoly, Inc 2005) shows –

” The world’s top 10 seed companies have increased their control from one-third to one-half of the global seed trade

” The top 10-biotech enterprises have raised their share from just over half to nearly three quarters of the world biotech sales

” The top ten pharmaceutical companies control almost 59% market share of the world’s leading 98 drug firms (previously the top ten accounted for 53% market share of 118 companies)

These corporations drafted the TRIPS agreement and imposed on the people of the world. They are blocking the review by the same methods they used to impose TRIPS. Monopolies on seeds and medicines are costing lives. The review of TRIPS must be a strategic objective of all movements in 2006.


WTO reduced agriculture to a commodity. The Agreement on Agriculture was drafted by Cargill, not by farmers. 40,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide in the decade of WTO. Suicides are the result of debt, debt is the result of rising costs of inputs as agriculture is industrialized and corporatised, and falling prices resulting from trade liberalization and removal of import controls. Hong Kong brought no relief to the farmers of the world who were protesting on the streets. No commitments were made on bringing back quantitative restrictions and import controls – a call of farming communities everywhere. The removal of export subsidies by 2013 is meaningless in the context of the rapid destruction of small farms and decimation of small farmers. It is both meaningless because export subsidies are a merely $ 3 billion, while total subsidies for industrial agriculture in OECD countries is $ 400 billion.

If farmers must survive we need a change in paradigm from industrial agriculture to ecological agriculture, from free trade to fair trade, from decisions about agriculture in WTO to decisions moving to local and national levels. This is the call for food sovereignty.

Agriculture also needs to return to the ground because WTO cannot make democratic decisions about this vital sphere. Clayton Yrutter who went from Cargill to become the U.S trade representative during the Uruguay Round wrote in an article in Financial Times on December 15 titled “A Doha trade deal can be struck beyond Hong Kong” – “As always, the critical negotiations will eventually take place in Washington and Brussels ?? gathering 148 trade ministers together is not conducive to agreement”. Multilateralism was WTO’s pretense. But multilateralism is not acceptable to the powerful. That is why they want political shrinkage in terms of participation but an economic expansion over our lives. We will continue to fight for democratic expansion and economic shrinkage in corporate control and WTO’s jurisdiction.

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