WTO in Cancún: Where Corporations Plot To Rule The World

THE WORLD Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting at Cancún in Mexico from 10 – 14 September will be dominated by unscrupulous western politicians and greedy multinational corporations.

World politics may in future involve multinational corporations suing national governments in an attempt to dominate world trade.

MARK DESGRANGES says multinationals are already intimidating national governments through NAFTA, the World Bank and the WTO. The poor will suffer because of it.

IF THE WTO’s plans for investment are supported by its members then corporations will be allowed to sue governments that deny investor rights. This will allow the multinationals to ruin public services and destroy the environment.

One journalist commented: “Corporations could sue governments for daring to protect our countryside or for regulating our food and the air we breathe.”

One possible outcome of this would be corporations like Monsanto suing national governments for their failure to accept GM foods or chains such as McDonalds and KFC buying the rights to supply school dinners.

These decisions will be made by an undemocratic and unelected body.

The WTO investor agreement will be similar to that of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) which has an “investor rights” clause, chapter 11 of which says that if a government attempts to inhibit investor rights in its country after the company has arrived then that company has a right to sue the government.

The governments of Canada, Mexico and the US are already being dictated to by fat cat corporations on environmental and health matters. The US-based Ethyl Corporation has made Canada accept the gasoline additive MMT despite the Canadian prime minister describing it as a “dangerous neurotoxin”.

The WTO is in no way a regulatory body. It is a doormat that lets multinationals and greedy, profit-seeking politicians from western governments dictate the agenda.

The top 200 global corporations’ combined sales are greater than all the countries in the world except the biggest ten. US corporations dominate the top 200 with 82 companies.

“Left to their own devices companies are simply profit-generating machines.” says The Guardian’s Mark Curtis. “Often, only government action or intense public pressure make big business change behaviour.

“Indeed, only the international campaign against the pharmaceutical companies has forced them to offer drugs to developing countries at lower prices.”

Bullying by multinationals will not be a new scenario after the WTO meeting at Cancun but the pressure on smaller governments will increase.

Intense pressure

DELEGATES AND ministers from weaker nations know that WTO decisions on opening trade are not good for them but they still buckle under intense pressure from stronger nations.

This is largely due to the ‘green room’ system where powerful members meet to agree deals. Attendance is by invitation only.

The Zimbabwean ambassador to the WTO, Boniface Chidyausiku believes the green room is operating “like the Mafia. My minister could not speak since he was not officially invited to the consultations.

“He could only give notes to his colleagues to intervene.”

The WTO works by putting pressure on these countries behind closed doors. This pressure can take many forms.

Powerful countries may threaten to cut aid budgets, or they might offer new cash as bribes.

Pakistan, for instance, got its $1 billion post-September 11 aid package from the US the day after the WTO’s Doha conference concluded. The WTO claims that all members are treated as equals but as Fatoumata Jawara and Aileen Kwa acknowledge in their forthcoming book Behind the Scenes at the WTO, some members are more equal than others.

The WTO “shift the decision making process away from the formal process, in which all countries are at least notionally equal, into the realm of bilateral horse-trading.

“Here, only the rich have any real leverage, while most developing countries are so desperate for trade opportunities, aid, debt reduction etc that they have little choice but to succumb.”

Driven by profit

A lot of the “debt” that the developing countries pay was forced onto them by the World Bank and the IMF during the 60s and 70s. These loans allow the IMF and World Bank to interfere with government and social sector reforms.

By the 1990s most African governments were spending more on repaying debt than on health and education. It was estimated in 1997 that sub-Saharan governments were repaying northern creditors four times what they were spending on the health of their people.

The affluent nations have failed to help the developing countries that are struggling with AIDS, cholera and malnutrition. In some cases they have ignored these problems in favour of their own interests.

In 1999, the US pharmaceutical industry and vice president Al Gore lobbied to stop South Africa producing cheaper versions of a generic drug.

The World Bank estimated the annual cost of highly effective anti-retroviral therapy as $20,000 per person. No sub-Saharan African country spent more than $400 per person per year on health between 1990 and 1995.

Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Wellcome and Pfizer, which make the medicines needed to cure AIDS, had South Africa charged with WTO rules regarding patents and intellectual property.

South Africa challenged the Americans and won due to a loophole in the WTO’s ruling on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS).

This allows South Africa to produce cheaper drugs because the WTO recognise AIDS as a national emergency and because the drugs are needed for public non-commercial use.

South African president Thabo Mbeki admitted in an interview that: “A lot of the discussion …about the health and treatment of people does seem to be driven by profit.” Cancun’s decisions will benefit the multinationals and will decide the future of millions of people.

The only force which can defend these millions from rampant capitalist globalisation is the global working class. Our struggle to create a socialist society is the only guarantee of democratic rights and social justice.

Property rights or human life?

THE WTO reached a deal before the Cancún summit allowing cheap versions of life-saving drugs to be sold to the world’s poorest nations.

Aids-hit countries in Africa had protested that more than two million people would have died from HIV-Aids since the US first blocked the draft of this deal last December.

In 2001 WTO agreed in principle that the patent regime could sometimes be waived allowing countries to buy generic substitutes. The multinationals’ arguments about “intellectual property rights” should be shelved – they made billions out of Aids drugs.

The draft deal was originally sent out along with reassurances to the pharmaceutical lobby that there would be measures to stop generics being shipped out of poor countries to the richer areas where they had their core, most profitable markets.

The final deal is equally weak, requiring both exporting countries and the countries importing cheap drugs to issue licences.

The importing countries are meant to pledge that that deal won’t be used for their “commercial gain.” You might ask what about the multinationals’ “commercial gain”?

Both Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres point out that applying for licences would put these impoverished countries in direct opposition to the multinationals who own the patents.

Many people wonder whether third-world leaders will try to use the new deal, particularly as they are overwhelmingly capitalist politicians who can see no alternative to the profit system.

But the people of the ex-colonial countries will be bitter about their treatment. Under the ruthless capitalist system, a patient’s death is seen as less important than a multinational’s profit sheets.

It will make many people seethe with anger at the entire private profit system.

Ripped off

THE BIG drugs companies try similar tricks with their brands in the richer countries of the world, though the results tend to hit working people in their purses rather then threatening their lives.

Brand name drugs for routine ailments like headaches and hay fever are up to eight times dearer than supermarket own-label products doing the same job.

Panadol costs £1.85 for 16 tablets compared to 23p for 16 ordinary paracetamol. Similar mark-ups are seen in pharmaceutical companies’ hay fever treatments and painkillers.