SEPTEMBER 13 – Around 8,000 farmers, fishers, laborers, students, urban poor, small producers and NGO workers from the Stop the New Round! Coalition marched through downtown Manila yesterday to call on the Philippine government to prevent the launching of a new round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The WTO is currently holding its Fifth Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico where talks have been bogged down in the face of unprecedented solidarity over agricultural issues.
The marchers were supposed to march to Malacanang in Mendiola but were already blocked by a phalanx of baton-wielding, shield-carrying police backed up by two firetrucks at their assembly point in Welcome Rotonda, around 2 kilometers away. After some negotiations, the rallyists were allowed instead to march to the Plaza Miranda where they held their program.
The organizers were projecting as many as 10,000 to show up at the mass demostration but a sizeable number of them were prevented from even reaching Manila.
Protest all over the country, all over the world
Most of the protesters had come aboard a 300 jeepney caravan that traveled all the way from Isabela, Albay, Sorsogon, Benguet, Pangasinan, Aurora, Zambales, Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Quezon, Batangas, Laguna, and Cavite. Some of them arrived Friday night and held a torch parade around the Quezon City memorial circle. Others, however, never made it as they were blocked by the police on their way to the mass protest.
Mobilizing for the caravan and the rally were Sandigan at Ugnayan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (SUMAPI), Pambansang Katipunan ng Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK), Pakisama, groups belonging to the Philippine NGO Liaison Committee on Food Security and Fair Trade (PNLC), UNORKA, Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD), Bukluran ng Mangagawang Pilipino (BMP) Freedom from Debt Coalition, Kalayaan, BISIG, and Alliance of Progressive Labor. They were joined by Benguet vegetable farmers and the Samahang Magsasapatos ng Pilipinas.
SNR! Mindanao and SNR! Cebu also held parallel protest rallies in Davao City and Cebu City.
All these actions were part of worldwide protests against the World Trade Organizations.
Live from Cancun
During the program, the organizers called up Dr. Walden Bello, Executive Director of Focus on the Global South and member of SNR!, for updates on the state of negotiations in Cancun. Bello is part of a 15-member SNR! Delegation sent to Mexico to monitor the actions of Philippine negotiators in order to ensure that the government does not commit to a new round of trade liberalization.
“I’m happy to announce that negotiations in Cancun are in a stalemate,” Bello said to the delight of the crowd. He, however, relayed that the Philippine negotiators are under intense pressure from the US to break away from the ranks of the developing countries opposed to giving any further concessions without the US and the EU substantially cutting down its generous subsidies to its farmers.
Dr Rene Ofreneo, who is also in Cancun for Action for Economic Reforms (AER), Fair Trade Alliance, and SNR, meanwhile said that agriculture is living up to its original billing as the make-or-break issue in the negotiations. “In Cancun,” says Ofreneo, “a battle royale is shaping up.”
When the Doha Round was launched in 2001 as a Development Round for developing countries, the spokespersons of the developed countries made rhetorical commitments on the need to address the special and differential requirements of developing countries and to correct the highly iniquitous subsidy schemes in the developed countries.
Subsidies continued to rise however with the US even passing last year a new Farm Law providing rich American farmers an additional ‘farm income support’ amounting to $18 billion a year for the next ten years.
On the way to CancunIn the run-up to Cancun, the developed countries attempted to impose a new schedule of trade liberalization in agriculture through the so-called Harbinson draft of Stuart Harbinson, who proposed deep tariff cuts for all countries with minimal changes in the subsidy structure of the developed countries. The Harbinson draft was roundly rejected by many developing countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, which set up a coalition of developing countries seeking to operationalize the special and differential treatment (SDT) clause through the global recognition of the rights of developing countries to impose special safeguards (SSGs) against unwanted imports and declare as special products (SPs) certain strategic crops.The Indonesia-Philippine-led coalition has now grown from 17 to 32 at the latest count. In the meantime, another coalition among developing countries has emerged — the G20 or the Group of 20 but which is now called the G23, for it has now 23 members. Led by Brazil and counting China, India and the Philippines as members, the G23 is questioning the EU-US proposed draft on agriculture for its conservatism as the draft fails to address the massive Western subsidy schemes which is distorting global trade in agriculture and wiping out crops and livelihoods in the developing world. In the September 11 meeting on agriculture, the EU was promising modest and vague changes in the its Common Agricultural Policy or CAP, saying that trade-distorting subsidies would be channelled increasingly to green-box types of support measures. Many developing countries were not convinced by this sleight-of-the-hand proposal. In their paper, the EU even came up with an argument on the kind of agricultural policy that the CAP represents which is aimed at building ‘a versatile, sustainable, and competitive economic sector’ able to fulfill ‘its role in food and fibre production’, maintain the countryside and ‘conserves nature and makes a key contribution to the vitality of rural areas’. “But such an integrated, community-based and sustainable type of agriculture is precisely what is being destroyed in many developing countries as a result of the WTO-led opening up of their agriculture through tarrification and tariff reductions and the ensuing flood of heavily-subsidized western agricultural products, from grains to fruits and from meat to juices,” Ofreneo argued. Ofreneo also reported on US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick actuations in the afternoon meeting on agriculture. “Blunt and aggressive like his President, Zoellick did not mince words in saying that developing countries must make concrete commitments to further open up their agricultural markets, otherwise the United States will not make any changes in its agricultural policy regime, especially on issues related to subsidies,” reported Ofreneo.
“It was a very clear case of unilateralism in economic and agricultural policy making. Members of the developing countries were shocked and angry,” he said.New draft
Meanwhile, Cristina Morales, also of AER and SNR!, has just reported that the second draft of the ministerial containing revised proposals on different issues has just been released. It does not look very promising, Morales said, noting that even one Philippine negotiator has expressed his reservations about certain amendments.
Morales, along with the other SNR! delegates have promised to quickly analyze the new declaration in order to see whether it passes scrutiny. She also made commitments to continuing monitoring the actions of the Philippine negotiators and give a blow-by-blow account of the intense discussions going on in Mexico.
The last 48 hours of the ministerial meeting will be very critical as the big players – who have refused to budge on the issue of subsidies – accelerate pressure to hammer an agreement committing to further trade liberalization.
As a newly launched book entitled Behind the Scenes at the WTO by Geneva-based Aileen Kwa and Fatoumata Jawara showed, these intense pressures include intimidation, bribery, threat of aid withdrawals, and sanctions.