Strong resistance to FTAs and the new issues

Ambassador Rubens Ricupero, board member of the South Centre, former minister of finance in Brazil and former Secretary General of UNCTAD, was of the opinion that countries are facing a sort of ‘no man’s land’ in terms of WTO negotiations. On one hand, they are no longer in the pre-Bali phase where there was enormous uncertainty whether the WTO would be able to conclude the trade facilitation agreement (TFA) and whether it could survive as a viable negotiating forum.

The international community believed that it could not afford a failure of the WTO, so there was a special effort made to reach a sort of success. What was achieved was a very relative and modest success, Ricupero stressed, but in a way it provided what it was expected to do, which is just to show that the WTO is still alive and should continue. Ambassador Ricupero reminded participants that we are not yet in the ‘promised land’ and do not know whether negotiations will really resume in seriousness and whether they will be conducted with a sense of urgency.

Ambassador Ricupero alluded to what was discussed by Mr. Das and supported his points. However, Ricupero highlighted that on selected areas, such as on agricultural safeguards, exporting developing countries would find difficulties in granting safeguards without any kind of conditionalities.

Ambassador Ricupero noted that most of the international interest in trade negotiations lately has focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, and not on the post-Bali prospects or even on the WTO. He added that there is very scant interest in WTO matters outside Geneva.

Regarding those two macro negotiations (i.e. TPP and TTIP), it has been interesting that contrary to the initial expectations that these negotiations would be concluded in a few months, the actual prospects are much more subdued and resistance is growing, Ambassador Ricupero highlighted. What seems particularly new and interesting is that the resistance is growing inside the main proponents of the negotiations, basically in the United States and in some European countries.

This situation brings back to mind what happened in the so-called multilateral negotiations on investment under the OECD initiative, Ricupero recalled, where there was an enormous build-up of expectations and then the negotiations collapsed. The collapse resulted from the resistance that started to grow inside the countries that were more engaged in those negotiations.

Ambassador Ricupero noted that the so-called free trade agreement negotiations are focusing mostly on negotiating extra trade issues and in reality there is very little trade in those negotiations. The old issues addressed in the Tokyo and Uruguay Rounds, such as agriculture tariff peaks and tariff escalations, remain unfinished business. Among other issues, these remain an agenda that developed countries refuse to address until these days.

Ricupero added that developed countries are forcing onto the negotiations table issues that are not purely trade matters like intellectual property, the unjustified expansion of patent owners’ rights beyond any reasonable limit. They are trying to deepen liberalization of financial services irrespective of the disaster that the deregulation of financial services brought to the US and to the countries that followed the US model in this area. Developed countries are trying to further promote the ability of transnational corporations to litigate against sovereign states, Ricupero added. These matters that are extra trade mainly reflect the interests of big corporations that want to expand their rents, Ricupero stressed.

Ambassador Ricupero positively noted the rise of public awareness and opinion on these issues. He highlighted the refusal of US senators to grant Fast Track authority because they are aware that such kind of extra-trade agreements will cost jobs and will aggravate the situation of inequality. Ricupero stressed that inequality is the basic problem that is becoming the unifying theme in building the resistance against these kinds of negotiations. People see that those negotiations will bring more inequality and more concentration of wealth and resources, Ricupero added. It is a comfort to see that experts like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz are finally starting to say what UNCTAD has been saying for forty years at least, Ricupero highlighted. Sometimes even the IMF is beginning to see the light in some aspects, according to Ricupero.

Ambassador Ricupero concluded by stressing that his message focuses on the need to go back to basics; instead of continuously bringing new issues into the negotiations, there is a need to deal with the old and indispensable issues that have been long forgotten, including agriculture, tariff peaks and escalations, the problem of cotton, along the long list of issues that wait for some degree of fairness in international economic relations.


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