little fertilizer, some bleach and some hubcaps to put them all in, and you've
got a bomb", he said. "You can use frozen orange juice and slugs instead
of bleach, if you haven't got any", he added helpfully. Sean, a 13 year-old
neighbourhood fund of wisdom, confided secrets to me that he had cribbed from
his father's Anarchist's Cookbook.
only nine years old, I was awed that he'd deign to talk to me at all, let alone
tell me how to make a bomb. Sean moved away a few weeks later, and I've not
heard from him since. His most germane advice, though, remains with me: "With
half a mind and if you try hard enough, you can make a bomb out of anything."
fertilizer bomb that kills hundreds in Oklahoma. Fuel-laden civil jets that
kill 4000 in New York. A sanctions policy that kills one and a half million
in Iraq. A trade policy that impoverishes continents. You can make a bomb out
of anything. The ones on paper hurt the most.
away in the news in mid-November was a snippet from the Middle East directly
related to the 'War on Terrorism,' but one that didn't get quite as much coverage
as it ought to have done. The World Trade Organization held its Fourth Ministerial
Conference in Doha, Qatar, and came away with a Ministerial Declaration fluttering
in its hand. United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, peddled the
Ministerial Conference as part of the war effort. Here's what he said: "America's
ability to sustain coalitions against terrorism will depend in part on our attention
to the problems faced by our partners. Many democratic governments in developing
nations, already struggling with economic challenges before September 11, now
face staggering difficulties."
these difficulties are due to the previous trade rounds and to developing countries'
increased, policed and enforced integration into America's global economy, seems
temporarily to have escaped Mr Zoellick. As ever, beneath the veneer of US magnanimity
writhes a tangle of less noble intentions. The new Doha Development Agenda has
much in common with its noisier cousin, The War on Terrorism. It is warfare
by other means against the poor, at home and abroad.
the weapons of war seem to have informed the negotiating strategy of the WTO's
handlers. One of the most dazzling early innovations from the arms industry
was to pack a brace of warheads, including some dummies, atop intercontinental
ballistic missiles. When these warheads re-enter the atmosphere, the enemy's
defences are spread so thin trying to pick off each individual bomb that at
least one would be sure to get through. And one warhead is quite enough.
it is with the development agenda. As Barry Coates, Director of the World Development
Movement notes "Developing countries have neither the capacity nor the
wish to negotiate these new agreements." The civil services in the poorest
countries have been pared to the bone by World Bank structural adjustment policies.
Many cannot afford to have even one delegate in Geneva to monitor, negotiate
and resist these organisations. Negotiating several issues at once is well beyond
the means of most poor countries. The mere demand that these wrecked diplomacies
'negotiate' a cluster of new issues effectively guarantees their detonation.
then, did developing countries agree to sign? Part of the reason lies in the
magic of advertising. The new round hasn't been called a 'round.' Instead what
we have is a new brand round, the "Doha Development Agenda". This
rebranding idea is one with which we are all familiar – you tinker with the
name, but nothing else, in order to make punters believe that you've actually
improved things. It has worked for corporate giants, it works for the US government.
The re-branded School of the Assassins in Fort Benning Georgia is now catchily
known as WHISC, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, but
it still trains Latin American officers in techniques of interrogation to be
tried out on uncooperative citizens back home. Plus ca change, plus c'est la
meme chose. Flushed with the success of this little public relations coup, the
US government and its corporate sponsors transformed the new WTO round into
a Development Agenda. True to the spirit of the exercise, it still looks and
smells the same as past efforts. And it comes with no added developing country
you were following the flurry of trade debate emails, your spirits might have
been raised a little with the announcement that developing countries won a major
concession from rich countries. The Doha declaration on TRIPS – Trade Related
Intellectual Property Rights – says that public health concerns can trump patents
on drugs. A variety of non-governmental organizations in Doha rejoiced. It seemed
as if the WTO had effectively condoned the exporting of cheap medicines to developing
countries most in need of them. This seemed to be an important concession, an
article of good faith on the part of the rich concerned with the 'difficulties'
of their poorer brethren.
more sober reading of the text of the declaration soon re-corked the Champagne?.
It turns out that the declaration merely clarifies existing provisions in the
WTO patents regime, in which public health criteria can already be used to abrogate
patent rights. There's nothing new in the Doha declaration to worry the pharmaceutical
companies, as PhRMA, the US Pharmaceutical corporate lobby, have recently confirmed.
In fact, the WTO's rules are so powerful that even rich countries are wary of
them. Nothing else explains the Canadian government's swift about-face on the
compulsory licensing of Cipro. If the Canadians are afraid because of the precedent
this will set for the pharmaceutical industry, it's unlikely that small developing
countries stand much of a chance. Only Brazil has moved ahead with a compulsory
licensing initiative, despite US threats of legal action. To have the rich countries
affirm what was written into an already unjust law is scant victory.
has come early for the sick in poor countries. And, yep, they got a kick in
the teeth. Again.
of this answers the question of why developing countries agreed to sign the
declaration. Developing countries aren't so easily beguiled. After all, they
knew that the WTO allowed for compulsory licensing in the public interest. What's
one reason for the signing isn't big news: since so little was given away, there
was plenty of room to be able to spin the results to everyone's benefit. At
a time when the big players in international politics are looking for dividends,
no matter how empty, this was a fine chance to 'reinject confidence' into the
international system. The Indian government was able to trumpet their international
belligerence to a domestic audience in need of feel-good news. Meanwhile the
EU and US were able to brush aside demands on agricultural subsidy reduction,
re-evaluating TRIPs and implementation issues. The rich still haven't delivered
on many of the promises they made in 1994.
Another compelling argument for the signing of the declaration is the liberal application
of carrots and sticks to the delegates. In order to maintain their coalition
against terrorism, the US and its allies have brought their external considerations
of aid budgets, trade opportunities and debt forgiveness to bear with unusual
vigour. Which developing country, choking on immense and illegitimate debt,
wouldn't like to be a Pakistan right now, on the receiving end of international
largesse, World Bank and IMF debt cancellation, and CNN's compassion?
developing country, not necessarily among the 70 listed by Donald Rumsfeld,
would like to be Afghanistan? Yash Tandon, a seasoned activist from the SEATINI
group in Harare, put it like this: "In Seattle, they had green rooms. In
Doha they had boiler rooms. The rich countries lined up the poor, and took them
in one by one, twisting their arms and extracting concessions with the threats
of reduced aid budgets or worse."
pressure on developing countries, the strong 'No to a new round' positions taken
by developing countries, and the pressure on the North to come out with some
sort of agreements made possible a number of feats of diplomatic prestidigitation.
Consider this example: the EU and its former colonies in the Africa, Caribbean,
and Pacific (ACP) are party to the Cotonou agreement. Cotonou grants a series
of preferential trade privileges to exporters in these countries. These privileges,
as the recent dispute over bananas shows, are questionably compatible with the
WTO's most-favoured nation stipulations. The ACP countries had been pushing
hard for a waiver, so that these meager preferences would be accepted by the
WTO. As if by magic, the WTO agreed.
real reasons are a little less impressive. It would have been exceptionally
awkward to refuse this relatively small concession in a 'development round.'
The ACP countries have until 2008 to become WTO compliant in any case, there
had been a great deal of campaigning and lobbying around this issue before Doha
and – to top it off – the EU was made to appear magnanimous. Magic looks better,
though. The waiver has been spun as a concert of Northern and Southern interests.
Indian government, the most initially intransigent and powerful developing country,
demanded a caveat before signing the Doha declaration. They wanted clarification
from the Chair of the Conference, Youssef Kemal, on whether signing the agreement
actually committed *everyone* to a new round, or merely to talks about talks.
Here's Mr Kemal's reply.
me say that with the respect to the reference to an 'explicit consensus' being
needed, in these paragraphs, for a decision to be taken at the Fifth Session
of the Ministerial Conference, my understanding is that, at that Session, a
decision would indeed need to be taken, by explicit consensus, before negotiations
on Trade and Investment and Trade and Competition Policy, Transparency in Government
Procurement, and Trade Facilitation could proceed. In my view, this would give
each Member the right to take a position on modalities that would prevent negotiations
from proceeding after the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference until
that Member is prepared to join in an explicit consensus."
Mr Kemal. Beyond being forced to talk in this unutterable doublespeak, he's
clearly someone under duress. Things that you say with a gun to your head often
don't count against you under more normal circumstances. And since the Indian
government was asking for this clarification minutes before the end of the conference,
and given that Youssef Kemal had spent a great deal of time working to make
sure that the conference resulted in some sort of declaration, it's not terribly
surprising that he agreed to whatever they said. The subtext here is quite simple:
"Yeah, whatever, for the love of god just sign the damn thing". Can
we expect a process of explicit consensus next time round? It is, at best, unlikely.
The WTO has a track record of promises broken to the South. From implementation
protocols ignored, to preliminary 'studies' before negotiations waived, it is
standard diplomatic practice to throw crumbs to developing countries at one
negotiation, and then pick them off the table with a damp middle finger at the
the best explanation as to why developing countries went ahead with the round,
though, is that the mystery rests on a misconception. In Seattle, Southern governments
refused to sign a declaration not because they opposed the entrenchment of neoliberalism
and the elite class bias that comes with it, but because they had been roughly
treated. Delegates had not been able to enter meetings, and the US negotiating
team had rubbed Southern inferiority in their faces. In other words, the signing
of the Doha Development Agenda is only a mystery if one thinks that developing
country governments have recently taken a principled stand against neoliberalism.
They haven't. The refusal to sign at Seattle was not about indignation at neoliberalism,
but about the failure to treat elites as they are accustomed.
Doha, by contrast, Mr Zoellick was a dealer, a broker of accord, a merchant
of consensus. This new-found humility evidently pushed the buttons of the developing
country elite. So they signed. This should come as no surprise. These are the
elites that milk and pimp the majority of people in their countries. It's hard
to see why putting them in five star accommodation and making them feel important
might make them less venal.
us be clear. The Doha declaration and the war on terrorism are one and the same
process of power politicking. And woe betide those who raise their voices in
protest. Violence and silence are partners. Indeed, the 'war on terrorism' and
the 'war on poverty' even have similar processes of suppression of dissent.
It has, for example, been little reported that the WTO tried to muffle an alternative
website. The operators of Gatt.org were told by their internet service provider,
after pressure was applied from the WTO, that they had to take the site down
because of copyright violations. Using a slightly outdated facsimile of the
WTO's own website, the site provides links to alternative sources of information
on the WTO, as well as a modest character assassination of trade-unionist turned
Director General of the WTO, Mike Moore. Clearly, someone at the WTO doesn't
have a sense of humour. And wants alternatives silenced.
is, trade has as little to do with development now as it did when the British
South Africa Company, and the Dutch and British East India companies smothered
Africa and Asia. The WTO continues to reach beyond any reasonable economic arguments
about trade with its 'Trade Related' intellectual property, labour, and transparency
rulings. That's okay. We're used to it. The war on terrorism has, as John Pilger
has noted, nothing to do with terrorists.
the international trade system and the war on terrorism are technologies of
entrenchment. We are sold war as patriotism. We are sold trade as efficiency.
Efficiency is the Trojan horse of fascist politics. On the surface, the idea
seems inviting enough – get more for your money than you currently get. This
is the magic of international trade liberalisation, after all. Let consumers
reap the benefits of cheap production in other places, stop subsidising your
own wasteful production. You can even give the money you save from subsidies
to widows and orphans.
that the winners from 'efficiency' seem to care about widows, or indeed any
women at all. Perhaps the greatest crime in the drive to efficiency, as with
the drive to 'international security' is the silence over the suffering of women.
In the production of tea, coffee, cocoa, textiles, services and agricultural
innovation, the most exploited are people of colour, and above all women.
not entirely fair. Free traders do have a thing or two to say about women. The
stylized argument is this:
These peasant women, who previously didn't have an income, are now able to earn
cash, if only in the informal economy! Not only does trade continue to liberate,
but also it always has. Some women have benefited from trade for centuries.
Cross border trade in the horn of Africa, for instance, puts women in a position
of slightly more power than their counterparts elsewhere in Africa."
there's a sleight of hand, a twist of a dagger in this. Rural communities involved
in the export industry are on a guaranteed losing streak. The price of the goods
they sell has fallen over the past thirty years – indeed, the market guarantees
that when demand is high, supply will rise to lower price in the long term.
And to supply, all you need is to be in debt, have a tropical climate, and cheap
labour. Any takers?
other words, the prices of these things, the very things that are meant to lift
the poor out of poverty, plummeted. Disenfranchised, the rural poor migrated
to the city. And since there really isn't a way to grow much food there, working
for cash for food became a necessity. And with some fine modeling, the informal
economy has been illuminated for us. And women are now cash-rich. Development?
is not a democratic value. (It's hardly accidental that 'efficient' is a nineteenth
century term for a soldier ready for combat.) Efficiency is a technology of
conservatism. It is a way of asking how to wring more out of the status quo.
If the status quo were just, efficiency would be a luxury we could afford to
think about. But it isn't. Efficiency is an entrenchment. This is the sort of
entrenchment that has been peddled under the lobotomising slogan "If we
don't do X, the terrorists have already won" where X is exactly the same
as we did before. This is the sort of conservatism that does a disservice to
Conservatism. It is reactionary, mindless and stupefying. We must remain the
same not because change must happen slowly, but because any change lets terrorists
war on terrorism isn't really about preventing the savage acts that kill thousands
every day. Trade isn't really about development. They're both ways of entrenching
power, making the world safe for capital, in our names, written into the laws
of our countries.
connection with law – and the majority of the WTO's employees are lawyers –
is important. 'Trade as development' and 'War as peace' snap the connection
between law and justice. The laws invoked to sanctify these power politics are
vastly unjust, and an example of the kind of justice that people of colour experienced
for a while. Apartheid, after all, had its legal justifications. It was written
on peoples' bodies just as it was written in statute. The law is a weapon of
the strong far more than a weapon of the weak.
though, paper can become inconvenient for even the most powerful. The rule of
law can turn into the rile of law for the rich as much as for the poor. The
solution? Ignore it. This is what the US has done to its own constitution and
trade commitments over the past decade. The constitution has finally made the
transition from parchment to toilet paper. John Ashcroft's ransacking of attorney-client
privilege, allowing him to monitor attorney-client interactions without telling
anyone, violates both the Fourth and Sixth amendments.
no-one say that all it takes to kill one of these outrages is 'open democratic
debate'. There is no such thing. The self professed home of democracy is run
on the dollar-a-vote principle. Such politics rests on our consent, though.
When we withhold it, we reclaim the power that is justly ours. It's important
to remember that the battle against the corporatisation of medicine was won
not in Doha, but through large-scale international mobilization, education and
protest. The declaration on public health was a forgone conclusion only after
a great deal of hard work by groups like the Treatment Action Campaign and ActUp!
Philadelphia, Paris and New York. The victory is well worth the struggle, but
is far from over. After all, the horror of 'international trade as development'
still remains. We should not forget that we've only won what was taken away
from us by the WTO in the first instance. And when we roll back the police state
in the US and elsewhere, we'll only be reclaiming the liberty that was snatched
is time for a healthy dose of pessimism of the intellect. There are tough times
ahead. In many places around the world, an article like this could constitute
criminal incitement. You can make a bomb out of paper. As the Gandhians among
us know, you can also make a weapon out of truth. To update Orwell, telling
the truth is now a terrorist act. So if we don't become guerrillas armed with
truth, satyagrahi? Well, then the real terrorists have already won.
Raj Patel works with SEATINI and is a co-editor of The Voice of the Turtle.