WTO deals pose global threat: report

Original Publication Date: 
5 December, 2005

With only days left before the World Trade Organization holds its sixth ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, a new report claims that the agreements reached at these trade negotiations pose a threat to people and their environment around the world.

The Tyranny of Free Trade, released this week by environment non-governmental organization Friends of the Earth International, highlights what it claims are the environmental and social impacts free trade policies have on livelihoods, resource allocation and biodiversity.

Through a dozen case studies from Denmark to Indonesia, the 36-page report asserts that intensive agricultural practices and liberalized international trade are leading to social disruption, environmental degradation and even hunger, most notably in developing countries. Small-scale farmers are particularly vulnerable to market-opening pressures, the report says, and are often forced from their land that has been traditionally used to raise food for local consumption. This land is usually converted to plantations or commodity crops for export.

Examples from the Philippines, Indonesia and the Seychelles support the assertion that the 40 million small-scale fishermen who depend on the oceans' resources to feed their families could be out-competed if the WTO cuts tariffs on the fishing industry as proposed, the report says, adding trade measures used to protect small-scale fishing communities, including those in developing countries, would have to be removed.

"The myth of unfettered free trade as a solution to poverty needs to be exploded. Regional and bilateral trade agreements running in parallel are as untransparent and as harmful as the WTO," said one of the report's authors, Ronnie Hall.

"What we need now is a halt to trade liberalization negotiations and an urgent review of the impacts of international trade rules on the impoverished and the environment."

The coming WTO talks aim to liberalize trade in sectors ranging from services to agriculture and natural resources. "Because the poorest are the most reliant on access to natural resources for food, medicines and fuel, as well as a resource for their livelihoods, this could boost the enormous inequities that already exist in the current world trading system," the group said.