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  • Volume Eight, Number Seven: October 2003

    WTO Talks Collapse as “G-21” Resists big Power Juggernaut


    Dan Keeton


    WTO protest VancouverThe collapse of the World Trade Organization talks in Cancun, Mexico early September gave vindication to anti-WTO protests in Vancouver and around the planet. And it bore out predictions of a major split between industrialized nations and Third World countries from WTO critics on the eve of the talks September 9.


    As with previous sessions of the group, the talks were marked by protests of thousands who occasionally clashed with police and at one point tore down the perimeter fence dividing the delegates from those whose futures their decisions determine. The mood of jubilation following the collapse contrasted with the sombre acknowledgment of the protest suicide of Korean farmers' leader Lee Kyung Hae at the barricades on the first day of talks and protests.


    Meanwhile, at a "carnival" in a downtown Vancouver park September 14, revellers, including a marching band and a satiric superhero called "Slash Gordon," linked WTO policies to things like public service cutbacks and privatization in British Columbia. The preceding evening a forum in New Westminster provided an intellectual backdrop for those assertions.


    Those attending saw a videotape of a press conference held on the eve of the talks in which international critics of the WTO cited the growing chasm between rich and poor countries at the table.


    "I think this is a moment when this coming together of a group of twenty developing country governments putting forward alternative proposals could be one of the stories of the next five days," said John Cavanaugh of the US-based Institute for Policy Initiatives. Lori Wallach of Public Citizen Global Trade Watch said delegates from Third World countries were under great pressure from their populations to protect their farmers and not accede to the rich countries' agenda. The resisters, known as the "G-21," opposed the enormous subsidies to northern agribusiness that has caused the rapid decline of producers in developing countries over the past decade.


    "In India we had millions of farmers on the streets saying this treaty was going to be genocidal to our producers," testified Vandana Shiva, of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. "Before I left, in one month alone, in one state alone, 675 farmers had committed suicide.


    "We were told we shouldn't be growing wheat and rice for feeding Indians anymore; we should be growing potatoes to make cheaper cheap French fries, now freedom fries."

    Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians told the press conference that despite assurances from the G-7 governments, public services such as health care are indeed on the table – meaning they're ripe for privatization.


    "Here in Cancun there is absolutely no consensus. There are very, very deep divisions between north and south [while large] countries, including my own, are pushing ahead with a greedy, powerful new agenda to impose their will and their interests on developing countries."


    Prominent publisher and author Mel Hurtig, founder and former leader of the now-defunct National Party, told the forum that Canada's Liberal government is a major promoter of its version of global “free trade” and was leading the push for expansion at Cancun. Yet Canada itself is in grave danger as a nation from free trade, said Hurtig.


    He summarized findings presented in his latest book, The Vanishing Country, that show the decline of Canadian ownership of its resources and corporations since free trade was first brought in the former Brian Mulroney Tory government. Foreign takeovers have accelerated, with some 10,441 firms sold in the eighteen years since the Mulroney government abolished FIRA, the Foreign Investment Review Agency, he said.

    Employment growth in the 1990s was lower than in any decade since the Great Depression, said Hurtig. Only 1.5 million jobs were created, compared to 2.3 million in the preceding decade.


    Wage increases in Canada have fallen drastically since free trade, less than a third of those in any decade since the Depression, Hurtig said.


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