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The 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will take place from December 10 to 13 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to promote once again its deregulation agenda in favor of the interests of pivotal countries and transnational companies. In order to face it, several social, peasant organizations and unions of the country met at the National Meeting in Preparation for a Week of Action against the WTO, to take place in parallel to the ministerial meeting.
This event was held on June 24, in Buenos Aires, and a wide number of defensive actions for the following five months were discussed. The participants also talked about the strengthening of an alternative agenda, based on integration, economic democratization and self-management. Activist Luciana Ghiotto, of ATTAC Argentina and the Asamblea Argentina Mejor sin TLC, which gathers different social organizations of the country, deepened on the implications of this visit and on the Week of Action against Free Trade, in this interview conducted by our colleague Camila Trama, of Friends of the Earth Argentina.
In what context and with which goals is the WTO coming to Argentina?
The WTO is coming to Argentina in a context in which Mauricio Marci´s administration wants to prove to the rest of the world, and ensure corporations and capital in general, that Argentina respects legal certainty principles, that it can be trusted for investments. In this context, bringing the WTO to the country implies showing this alleged belonging to the world, promoted by the “macrista” government.
Now, the WTO is also coming with an agenda of its own, related to negotiations taking place for several years now. One of the key issues that will be discussed this year is e-commerce: new commercial issues related to the rights of companies. Corporations want to ensure their free access to data, free circulation and commercialization of personal information of each and every one of the people who use the Internet on a daily basis, for instance to buy things on Mercado Libre, or even the data we have on Facebook. This information is traded and the place where these huge databases are located is a source of power. This is one of the key issues to be discussed.
There are also other issues that are put on the agenda by the most industrialized countries and their corporations, which have nothing to do with the interests of a developing country.
What types of sovereignty are in danger when following the agenda of the WTO?
The WTO, with its 22 years of existence, came from the beginning with a liberalization and deregulation agenda. The impact of its negotiations in the field of services, for instance, is felt on education, access to health… The intellectual property agenda will also have an effect on health, because it implies, among other things, that generic drugs won´t be produced due to intellectual property rights established in patents and the fact that countries have to respect the rights of corporations on seeds and other ways of life. All of this is part of a general liberalization and commodification agenda of the WTO.
In addition, one of the WTO principles is the non-rollback commitment, i.e. once an agreement is made, since it is multilateral, there is no turning back. This allows to advance in a very direct way on these issues and makes it difficult to reverse decisions the countries make in the framework of the WTO. This is why the WTO is a trap, and therefore social organizations strongly reject this organization.
What are the risks of similar experiences in the Latin American region with the WTO agenda and Free Trade Agreements?
FTAs are in line with the WTO. When this organization went into a crisis as a multilateral space, the US and other countries, seeing that they could not advance multilaterally, started to promote agreements in a bilateral or regional way, among fewer countries.
This happened with the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas, an attempt to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement to Latin America). When the FTAA failed in 2005 (in its last summit in Mar del Plata, the social rejection was such that the project was considered dead since then), the US had already started working on bilateral agreements, for instance with Chile, Central American countries and the famous CAFTA (Free Trade Agreement between the US, Central America and Dominican Republic); with all these countries it was able to advance bilaterally, despite not having a general agreement for the Americas.
And this is the case with the WTO. We have these FTAs with the same agenda of the WTO but in chapters: intellectual property chapter, services, investments, public procurement, among others. It is true that FTAs are widely rejected in the countries that sign them. We could assess the impact of this rejection: if it is capable of stopping negotiations, which is usually not the case. But on the other side, the WTO is the only multilateral space where these negotiations take place. Its corporate and liberalization agenda goes in the same line that FTAs.
About the national preparation meeting, what is the focus of social organizations towards the WTO meeting in December?
The aim of social organization is to meet and organize a Week of Action against Free Trade in the framework of the ministerial meeting of the WTO. We started organizing this in December last year, when we found out that there was going to be a ministerial here. What we are discussing now is the format of this week. Most likely there will be a Peoples´ Summit, with self-managed workshops, sectoral assemblies and a big Peoples´ Assembly.
We want to express our rejection against the WTO, to say that it does not represent us or our alternative agenda. And also to make this alternative agenda visible, which has been undermined in the past years with the advance of neoliberal governments and this new position of the right-wing in the region which has put us again in a defensive position. Saying “NO to the WTO” today implies to raise our own agendas to build other possible worlds.
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