Will America destroy the WTO? | PSI

At the core of the business, of these stalled Doha development talks is a huge hypocrisy. The United States as a champion of free markets and free trade has aggressively promoted the opening of markets in developed and developing countries alike. It has presided over the breaking down of tariffs and quotas in all regions of the globe ostensibly on the basis that free trade is good for all.

Yet it has hidden an inconvenient truth. There are winners and losers in free trade. Even where trade facilitates rises in national wealth this wealth is not evenly distributed. Large companies of well, consumers rich enough to afford foreign goods of well, but workers in affected industries lose their jobs, local goods exposed to export markets become unaffordable to the poor and small producers go bankrupt.

In this environment, the pressure to lower wages to maintain competitiveness has become a dogma. Countries respond by undermining workers' rights, often breaching core labor standards and fundamental human rights.

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These truths can be hidden because the effects are not always linked to the trade deals; they creep in over time.

But there are some areas where the truth is so stark that it can never be hidden. So immediate that the politics are prohibitive, and so immoral that the distracting detail of trade negotiations can not hide the injustice.

And so, last week the so-called development round of the WTO collapsed amid a flurry of accusations about developing world intransigence.

India and dozens of other developing countries can not tolerate rules that prohibit them from securing food for some of the most impoverished people on the planet. Nor should they.

It is not only food security that is in the sights of free trade negotiators. The Trade In Services Agreement aims to open up many areas of public services such as education, health, water and energy to private providers. Anyone who's looked at the increased tariffs for energy after privatization of a public energy utility knows why this will not be acceptable. Anybody who is faced with paying the escalating costs of pharmaceutical goods sees why privatizing health care is a fool's paradise. Anybody who is watching the social and demographic impact of circular migration on sending and receiving countries in families and communities, realizes why treating migrant workers the commodities to be traded to tragic mistake.

The USA is playing a high stakes game. It is now playing with the future of the WTO.

Unable to reconcile corporate interests with development objectives, and unable to broker a deal in over a decade, the WTO's credibility is taking a battering. Even the election of Brazil's Roberto Azevedo the WTO Director General earlier this year has failed to resolve these tensions. In Asia and Latin America, civil society is calling for an end to the WTO.

Until governments remember that trade is but a means to development - and not an end in itself - trade deals will become harder and harder reach And while they continue to be offensive to this deal - it is not such a bad thing.

Rosa Pavanelli is a long time trade activist, and this in Bali this week for WTO and civil society discussions. She is the General Secretary of the global union federation Public Services International which represents 20 million public sector workers in 150 countries

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