Weekly News Review

6th September, 2003

WTO rules set to devastate biodiversity

As hundreds of small farmers, indigenous people’s groups and landless peasants start preparations to descend on Cancun to protest the Fifth Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) scheduled to take place September 10-14, Friends of the Earth added its voice to the protests against the WTO and its new rules that promise a devastating impact on the world’s biological and cultural diversity.

The WTO draft agreements on areas like agriculture, services and intellectual property rights will lead to increased deforestation and the replacement of traditional agricultural crops, seeds and livestock by large-scale monocultures, including those based on genetically modified (GM) crops. [1]

The most devastating impacts would come from agricultural trade agreements, especially if they would be based upon the recent US-European Union joint proposal for the modalities of agricultural negotiations. This proposal sets the scene for drastic market liberalization in agricultural products, while it leaves virtually untouched the massive direct and indirect subsidies these trading blocks are providing to their own export-oriented farmers (with the exception of a limited category of direct export subsidies).

The result will be devastating for small farmers in developing countries, who will be unable to compete with subsidized large-scale producers in industrialized countries. These small-farmers are the main custodians of the world’s agrobiodiversity, which consists of thousands of plant and animal varieties and related traditional knowledge. When these farmers disappear, this wealth of biological and cultural diversity disappears too.

“The large-scale, export-oriented agriculture that is promoted in current WTO proposals is also the main cause of deforestation, especially in tropical areas,” said Simone Lovera of Friends of the Earth International.

“It is now widely recognized that the recent increase of deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon is mainly caused by the rapid expansion of soy bean production for the – mainly European – export market,” Lovera added.

The traditional knowledge of small farmers and Indigenous Peoples relating to the use and conservation of biodiversity is also being threatened by the growing practice of so-called “biopiracy”, the practice of Northern biotechnology industries to patent seeds, traditional knowledge and other elements of biological and cultural diversity of the South.

Developing countries have demanded a review of the WTO’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement to protect themselves against such biopiracy. As part of these negotiations, African countries have called for a prohibition of patenting of life forms.

The WTO meeting follows hard on the gathering of twenty Heads of State and over 110 Ministers held this week in Havana, Cuba, to discuss the problem of desertification, a process to which WTO policies are contributing.  Desertification and land degradation are global environmental problems that devastate the livelihoods of millions of rural people, especially small-scale farmers. It is estimated by the Secretariat of the Desertification Convention that the degradation of land is costing the world community up to 40 billion USD per year. Yet, official development aid to rural communities, where the majority of the world's poor lives, has been

declining over the past decade. Meanwhile, droughts and other climatic extremes caused by climate change are taking a particularly heavy toll on dryland populations.

Agricultural trade liberalization as currently proposed by the US and European Union (EU) at the WTO will place an additional burden on dryland populations. Most dryland communities consist of small farmers who are unable to compete on a world market. Even the local markets of these small producers are nowadays rapidly being taken over by subsidized agricultural products from the EU, the US and other industrialized countries. The trade proposals by the EU and US leave their direct and indirect support structures for export-oriented agriculture virtually untouched, while they would force developing countries to open up their agricultural markets for these subsidized products. The results would be devastating for dryland producers and for the lands these communities manage.

Water privatisation triggered by the General Agreement in Trade in Services under the WTO will put an additional burden on dryland populations. Water is a very precious common good in many arid zones, and few rural farming and pastoralist communities are able to pay for privatized water services. Water privatisation schemes have already lead to disastrous effects in countries like Niger and Northern Mali, where rural people living in deserts and drylands have been faced with water bills that are taking up between 12 and 70% of their income.

The official United Nations website of 'the sixth Conference of the Parties to Combat desertification' is here

For more information on Cancún go to http://www.foei.org/cancun

Left MEPs go to Cancún


A delegation of 8 MEPs from the United Left Group (GUE/NGL) in the European Parliament will go this Sunday (7th September) to Cancún (Mexico) to make heard their call for an in-depth reform to the international trading system, so that priority is given to social justice, the right to development, food safety, public health, education, environmental protection and cultural diversity rather than to purely commercial and financial considerations.


A spokesperson for the Group said that "the GUE/NGL is against any extension of the scope of activities of the WTO. We seek a proper public debate and think that the mandate of the European Commission, which dates from before Seattle, is obsolete and must be updated to take account of the serious problems which have come to light since then, particularly in the field of access to drugs and services, and in agriculture.


The delegation will defend its opinions in various fora, and will take part in several events, a priority being the meeting of the World Parliamentary Forum on 8 September, for which the Group is co-organiser. Set up within the framework of the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre, this Parliamentary Forum brings together MPs from all over the world who oppose neo-liberalism and seek to build alternatives.


During the Forum, a declaration on their priorities for the Cancún talks signed by many Parliamentarians from several countries will be finalised and sent to the WTO and to the government delegations taking part in the negotiations.


For more information on the Parliamentary Forum go  here

For more on the GUE-NGL go to http://eicippohttp/guengl/ .


New radio launched to break the mainstream media reporting monopoly on the WTO

real world radio is an initiative that mixes radio and new internet tools to enable communication between the diverse array of individuals, groups and social organizations trying to break through the information ‘wall’ set up by the mainstream media reporting on the WTO.

A joint initiative of Friends of the Earth International (www.foei.org) and Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias (www.amarc.org), the radio station's aim is to show the impact of

trade liberalisation, and, at the same time, to show there are thousands of ways for communities to resist transnational corporations.

In Cancún real world radio will cover the official agenda of the WTO negotiations and, in addition, will focus on the wide variety of civil society mobilizations in the first fifteen days of September. This programming will be available in Spanish, Portugese and English, the latter at here

Mercosur for sale? The EU's FTAA and the need to oppose it

"As if the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is not bad enough, the number of equally corporate-biased bilateral and inter-regional free trade negotiations has mushroomed in recent years. Talks between the European Union (EU) and the South American trade bloc Mercosur, for instance, have now entered their decisive stage. Against the background of intense competition with the US over economic dominance in the region, the EU's main goal is to secure markets for European corporations. The Mercosur-European Business Forum (MEBF) has been awarded a key role in the negotiations, instructing governments to further deepen the process of liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation."

The new info brief on the EU-Mercosur trade negotiations (co-published by Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute) is online here


Welcome to the EC's Hall of Shame

In the run-up to the decisive WTO summit in Cancun (September 10-14), Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) has launched a new website exposing the shameful record of the European Commission (EC) and Trade Commissioner Lamy in WTO negotiations.


A new website features ten case studies showing how, in stark contrast to its self-proclaimed goals of "harnessed, equitable globalisation", the Commission consistently promotes the interests of big business at the expense of  the world's poor and environmental sustainability. Case studies document the Commission's push for policies that kick the development ladder out from under the world's poorest countries, its addiction to undemocratic alliances with big business and the ever-widening gap between EC rhetoric and reality.

Visit the European Commission's Hall of Shame: here

Legal analyses of proposed EU Constitution

A series of legal analyses of the proposed EU Constitution has been prepared for UK NGO Statewatch by Professor Steve Peers of the University of Essex. Each of the analyses is annotated to compare the current Treaties, practice and case law to the proposed Constitution - and in the case of decision-making the present division of powers to those proposed (including new powers). The analyses can be read at  here

German Air Force Base Closed for Weapons Inspection

On the morning of Monday September 1, an international team of thirty citizen inspectors closed the three gates of Buchel air force base in Germany to carry out a war crimes inspection. It is a "public secret" that 11 US B-61 tactical nuclear weapons are stored on the base. Armed with clipboards, cameras and pens the inspectors gathered information for the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as for the UN where their findings will be reported next year during the Non-Proliferation Preparatory Committee in New York. Their report will also be made public through the Internet.

The inspectors condemn the use of double standards by the German and U.S. governments with respect to weapons of mass destruction. The inspection follows the criticisms of the U.S. nuclear weapons policy made earlier in the week by IEAE director Mohammed El Baradei. "The U.S. government demands that other nations not possess nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, it is arming itself," El Baradei told the weekly Der Stern. "There are no good or bad nuclear weapons. If we do not stop applying double standards, we will end up with more nuclear weapons. We are at a turning point," he said.

Pol D'Huyvetter, one of the ten weapon inspectors who travelled from Belgium, said that, "All countries who have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty-- including the U.S. and Germany-- have agreed to start negotiations to achieve complete nuclear disarmament. One of the first steps agreed by these states was openness of the nuclear weapon arsenals. Meanwhile, they keep their nuclear weapons bases completely secret. It is for this reason that we need to take action as citizens to investigate the base, and make this information public."

Although both the German Commander of the base, Mr. Martin Schelleis, and the second in charge, Major Hans Helbach, were not willing to make any official statement about the presence of weapons of mass destruction on the German base, the inspectors uncovered interesting information for their report to the UN and the public. "It is also very alarming that the chief of police Mr. Peter Magerl stated that there is no nuclear emergency plan for when there is a plane accident involving a nuclear warhead" declared Pol D'Huyvetter. The nuclear warheads include materials such as plutonium and tritium, two very toxic radioactive materials which could cause very serious contamination problems, both for the environment and public health.

The citizen inspectors came from Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Malta, Sweden and the USA. There will continue to be citizen inspection actions at nuclear related sites around the world. On 25th October there will be an inspection at SHAPE (the NATO military headquarters) in Mons, Belgium.

Pictures of the inspection can be seen here

Occupation of Iraq


"The UN became an accomplice in the illegal occupation of Iraq and so became a target of militants resisting the US-UK occupation. The UN should pull out of Iraq, and refuse to return until the US ends its occupation. Only then should UN humanitarian agencies go back to work in support of the people of Iraq." Read Phyllis Bennis at here and her  online discussion about the bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq with the readers of the Washington Post, which was held on 20 August 2003 at here




"Assessing the Cuban Revolution 50 Years After Moncada" by Saul Landau: "Cuba is criticised for a lack of democracy and political freedom. The Cuban revolution does repress those who disagree, which is a serious issue. But this should not obscure the fact that it has real enemies, who have attacked it violently for more than forty-four years. Cubans at least have the advantages of institutional equality and services sorely lacking in most of the third world - thanks to the Revolution." Read the rest at here


Space warriors

With no fanfare, the Bush Administration is taking military control of what it terms "near space," thereby laying claim to the area of the Solar System that lies between the Earth

and the Moon's orbit. Read the rest of Joel Bleiffus's "Rods from the Gods" here