The Fall of the WTO

On Monday July 24, 2006, the General Secretary of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, officially announced the suspension of the Doha Round talks. Outside the somber WTO headquarters in Geneva, a large group of La Vía Campesina, Fisher Folk Federation, and members of other social movement celebrated the failure of the negotiations and WTO.  The organizations publicly stated: “The Doha Round cycle is over, now is the time for food sovereignty…”

On Friday July 28, 2006, La Vía Campesina and other social organizations marched from Wilson Palace to the WTO, to accompany the Fluvial Parade of the fisher folks in the Lake of Geneva to celebrate the collapse of the WTO. The Philippino fishefolks launched four traditional fishing boats decorated with huge banners against the WTO, and navigated until they reached a small dock in the back of the WTO headquarters. A flotilla of yachts of local supporters and social organizations accompanied the fisherfolks boats. The marchers followed them to that point walking along the edge of the lake. In front of the march, a tractor driven by a Swiss farmer carried a giant effigy depicting Pascal Lamy’s severed head. Following behind the tractor the Korean Peasants League carried a coffin symbolizing the death of the WTO. They were followed by a large delegation of La Vía Campesina representing 12 countries, members of social movements like Friends of the Earth International, Our World is not for Sale, Focus on the Global South, the Geneva Coalition Against the WTO as well as local farmers and activists. The fisherfolks got off their boats and everybody marched to the WTO.

The march ended across the street from the WTO. Police officers did not allow the marchers to get close to the main entrance to deliver the coffin. A cheerful and colorful rally was held at this point were Henry Saragih from La Vía Campesina told the crowd; “The Doha Round is dead, long live food sovereignty!”  Walden Bello from Focus on the Global South urged the marchers: “The WTO is dying, let’s bury the sucker!”

The rally ended and the Korean farmers decided to leave the coffin there. When all the protestors left, some WTO armed guards crossed the avenue to carefully inspect the coffin making sure that no explosives were inside. They then carried it inside the WTO.

This was a day of celebration for international social movements opposed to the WTO, free trade and neoliberalism in general. But let’s briefly review the road that lead to the spectacular failure of the WTO.

The United States has always actively promoted the liberalization of markets as a strategy to win economic dominance. These neoliberal policies became more significant with the negotiation in 1993 of the North America Free Trade Agreement and the foundation of the World Trade Organization in 1995.

The WTO was the continuation of the Uruguay Round that lasted from 1986 and 1994. Two Ministerial meetings of the WTO took place and the negotiation process among its members continued slowly but steadily into 1999, the year when the WTO suffers its first setback.

The 3rd Ministerial meeting took place in Seattle, Washington in 1999.  As a result of the mobilization of thousands of people, from farmers to trade unionists, from indigenous peoples to environmentalists, students and social activists, the meeting was derailed. Under a heavy fog of tear gas, pepper gas and rubber bullets, the negotiators suddenly suspended their deliberations and went home.

Then in 2001, the meeting was held in Doha, in Qatar. The protests against WTO were contained due to the authoritarian and repressive environment of Qatar. The negotiators were able to begin a round of negotiations imposed by US trade negotiators and the WTO released the Doha Declaration setting forth the framework for negotiations as well as extending the powers of the WTO.

The 5th Ministerial meeting was moved to the resort city of Cancún, México.  Again as a result of the mobilizations of thousands of people, and the self-immolation of Korean farmer Lee Kyang Hae on September 10, 2003, the negotiation process was suspended.

On December of 2005, this time in Hong Kong, mobilizations, including a large contingent of migrant workers, caused the failure of the negotiations of the WTO. More than 1,000 protesters, mainly Korean farmers, were repressed and arrested. But no progress was made in the meetings and the fate of the WTO became uncertain.

Last weekend, July 23-24, an international delegation of La Vía Campesina, as well as members of other social movements, arrived in Geneva to continue the fight with a planned week of demonstrations, meetings and press conferences. But on Monday July 24, 2006, the first day of actions by La Vía Campesina and a large contingent of other social movements, Pascal Lamy announced the suspension of negotiations and so the abrupt stop of the Doha Round.

La Vía Campesina and other social organizations happily received the announcement. However, some organizations were saddened by the collapse of the WTO. Some development NGO’s took on the position that the suspension was a disaster for poor farmers of the Third World. Other organizations as well the European media, some developing countries, and China, went as far as demanding the continuation of the negotiations.

La Vía Campesina, accompanied by other organizations like Friends of the Earth International, the World Women March, and others, went to the WTO headquarters to welcome Mr. Lamy announcement and to publicly state that this is the moment for food sovereignty. Surprisingly, during the rally, an assistant of the General Secretary came out to invite La Vía Campesina members to speak with Lamy.

The next day, July 26, a delegation of La Vía Campesina that included José Bové from the French farmers and Ms. Yoon Geum  Soon from the Korean Women Peasants League, as well as representatives of the fisher folk from the Philippines, met for more than an hour with Lamy. In the meeting, Lamy appeared confused and upset and blamed “certain” countries (did not mention names) for the suspension of the Doha Round. The delegates explained the position of La Vía Campesina. He was told that the WTO and the neoliberal policies have worsened the economic crisis of the rural poor living in the so-called developing countries and that it has created a global system of unlimited competition among farmers in the developed countries that have only benefited multinational agribusiness and their shareholders.

The Doha Round is over and the negotiations may not be reinstated again soon. In fact, it is probable that the suspension may bring about the fall of the WTO. The collapse of the Doha Round represents an opportunity for La Via Campesina and other social movements to promote our own alternatives to WTO, Free Trade and Neoliberalism. As a leader of La Vía Campesina, Basque farmer Paul Nicholson stated: “WTO is an octopus that is why we have been attacking its head, now we need to start cutting the tentacles. Now is time to develop our global, regional, national and local strategies to bury the WTO and more importantly, to bring food sovereignty, our alternative, as the alternative of the citizens of the world and into the agenda of the social movements…”

Carlos Marentes (Via Campesina – USA)