Weekly News Review

29th June, 2003



Free trade myths behind push for WTO investment agreement exposed

 

A new report published earlier this week exposes the arguments for a new free trade agreement on foreign investment at the World Trade Organisation as groundless myths.

 

The report, jointly produced by Friends of the Earth and the World Development Movement, was published to coincide with this weekend's lobby, scheduled to take place in numerous locations throughout Britain, to oppose the EU and the UK government’s backing for launching such an agreement at the next WTO Ministerial, scheduled to take place in Cancun, Mexico, in September.

 

The European Union has been the driving force behind calls for an investment agreement through the WTO, with the European Commission claiming this will bring development benefits to recipient countries. But analysis shows that an investment agreement will primarily benefit large multinational companies, who will gain greater ‘rights to roam’ in the global economy.

 

The report subjects a number of the free traders arguments to scrutiny, disproving claims that an investment agreement will lead to an increase in foreign investment in developing countries, that developing countries are generally keen to liberalise their economies, or that increased foreign investment increases economic growth and development. It shows how the WTO's claim that it gives developing countries the power to shape an investment agreement for their benefit is purr moonshine.  In fact, developing countries have consistently opposed launching new free trade agreements at the WTO, a position they have held since before the 3rd WTO Ministerial meeting in Seattle in 1999. At the last WTO ministerial held in Doha in November 2001 developing countries, lead by India, held out against massive pressure from the EU. They

succeeded in getting a decision to launch negotiation delayed until this years ministerial meeting. Their opposition was most recently restated by trade ministers from the Least Developed Countries meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 2 June 2003.

 

Friends of the Earth and WDM, both members of the Trade Justice Movement, are calling plans for new free trade agreements at the WTO to be ditched and for international and national corporate accountability legislation for businesses to ensure that strict standards are applied to companies operating overseas. Such legislation should come under the aegis of th United nations rather than the WTO, as was the case with the recent agreement governing trade in genetically modified organisms, for example. It should include extending a right to communities  to challenge exploitative, environmentally damaging or otherwise bad practices.

 

Friends of the Earth Policy and Campaigns Director Liana Stupples said: “Corporate lobbyists and our Government want to spin proposals for a WTO investment agreement into a pot of honey for the developing world. But nothing could be further from the truth. Without binding rules for multinational corporations under the UN, the developing world will have everything to lose and big companies will have everything to gain. This WTO agreement must not be allowed to go through.”

 

WDM Head of Policy, Peter Hardstaff added that "The EU and the corporate lobby have conjured up a set of myths and fantasies to give a spurious development justification to launching an agreement that is entirely in their own interests. The facts show that there is no evidence that a WTO investment agreement will lead to even one dollar more being invested in poor countries. We must have international trade rules with the aim of development based on evidence and fact not ideology and self interest. If the UK Government is serious about making trade work for the world's poor, they must push the EU to drop its backing for an investment agreement. This would help developing countries, most of which have little capacity to negotiate an over-loaded trade agenda. The focus must be reviewing and reforming the existing unfair and unbalanced WTO rules."

 

The report,  Investment and the WTO – Busting the Myths is available from DAVE@wdm.org.uk or media@foe.co.uk  For details of the planned lobby, see www.tradejusticemovement.org

 

Green NGOs: CAP reform proposals have "lost teeth"

 

Proposals for reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which have once again had to be revised following the failure of a number of attempts since the attempt to find a solution to the CAP's many problems began a year ago, have now been watered down to the point where they would be entirely ineffective, according to environmentalists.

 

John Hontelez, Secretary General of thete European Environmental Bureau (EEB), an umbrella group which represents numerous European NGOs large and small, responding to this week's revised proposals, said,  “The first proposal in July 2002 gave us hope that a real move was taking place towards sustainable agriculture. The legislative proposal in January this year was already disappointing, having lost the teeth of  the first proposal. Now, the result of the negotiations of the council is even more disappointing. What is left are bits and pieces of a reform package, making it more complicated and hardly effective.”

 

The revision reduced the proportion of CAP funds which would be committed to the vital area of rural development, and watered down proposals on "cross-compliance", under which farmers who do not obey environmental rules would be deprived of subsidies. Despite some small improvements in other policy area, but these do not offset the clear watering down of the original plan, under pressure from agri-corporations, rich farmers, and the best political decision-makers money can buy.


For details of the proposals and their shortcomings, go to http://www.eeb.org


Commission to prosecute Austria for trying to protect area of outstanding natural beauty

 

The European Commission is taking Austria to court to overturn a ban on lorries using a motorway approaching the Alpine Brenner pass. The ban is supposed to be instituted on August 1st.  Austria is seeking to protect air quality and reduce noise in one of the few parts of Europe not already ravaged by the EU's transport and agriculture policies, but the Commission's job is of course to protect the interests of the powerful, amongst whom road hauliers figure highly.



Urgent action needed: Help Free the Rainbow Warrior





Following a recent non-violent, peaceful protest, against the destruction of African forests, the authorities of the Spanish state, has detained Greenpeace's  flagship. "They've offered to let us buy the ship's freedom with a Euro 300,000 in bond, along with a promise to undertake no more marine actions for the environment in Spanish waters. Never!" Greenpeace commented.



Help the Rainbow Warrior get back to the business of protecting forests, and tell the authorities they can't silence our voices. Please act now. Go here




Still no public access to most EU documents

 

"It is ten years since the Code on access to Council and Commission documents was introduced in 1993 and it is six years since Article 255 in the Amsterdam Treaty allegedly "enshrined" the citizens' right of access. Yet even now less than 50% of the contents of documents on the Council's public register have been released and the Commission's public register is absolutely useless. How much longer are we going to have to wait for freedom of information in the EU?" Read the rest of Tony Bunyan's hard-hitting speech to the European Commission at  here


EU Summit: Agreement on "harmonised" biometric identification linked to EU databases


And if you think that sounds deeply dodgy, you're dead right. Read why   here

 

Report available on situation of Roma refugees on the FYROM / Greek Border


The Roma Council has published a report on the harassment and persecution of Roma People seeking to cross the border between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece - which is also, of course, an external EU border. The report can be read at

here



"Proceed with caution in Iraq" - advice to the government from Finnish Left

 

In a debate this week in the Finnish Parliament, Left Alliance MPs reacted to the country's government's statement that it was important to improve trans-Atlantic relations by raising the major issue which soured them in the first place, the United States' barbaric, unprovoked and illegal attack on Iraq

 

Annika Lapintie reminded the government that "In Finland, the law prescribes a UN mandate as a precondition for military crisis management. Many member states want to ensure that their companies have access to Iraqi oil resources and get their share of construction contracts. For this reason we had better stick to the UN mandate. Under these circumstances, a positive EU decision might be adopted all too easily, even though Iraq will be governed for many years to come by a US occupation authority set up after a military aggression carried out against international law. As long as Iraq is governed by an occupation authority, albeit ostensibly backed by a consultative body composed of Iraqis, we must carefully consider the forms of our participation in civilian crisis management. The situation will, of course, be different as soon as Iraqis are allowed freely to select their own government."

 

Ms Lapintie opposed sending police officers, pointing out that US and British soldiers continue to die daily. Even if, as the US claim, these deaths may be attributed to hard-line supporters of the old regime, "With the prolongation of the occupation one can surmise that resistance will also be motivated by nationalistic and politico-religious ideologies. I advise the Government to proceed with much caution in considering our participation is joint European operations in Iraq."

As for genuine humanitarian aid, "It is entirely another matter to provide humanitarian aid, which has no tie to the occupation authority. Even then, participation can be dangerous to aid workers, for we can give no guarantee that those resisting the occupation authority are always able to tell the difference between aid workers and personnel working for the occupation authority."

 

In the Netherlands, Socialist Party MPs Harry van Bommel en Krista van Velzen joined other Dutch and Iranian citizens from the anti-war Platform tegen de Nieuwe Oorlog (Platform against the new war) in distributing leaflets, headed "Iraqis must rule their own land" in the Tweede Kamer's (Parliament's) buildings. The activists were protesting aganist the possible sending of Dutch soldiers to Iraq.

 

"Black history: the present in the past"


The new special number of the journal Race & Class covers literature, theatre, music, black thinkers and recent debates in the academy and the community crucial to the shaping of black history. For more information, material from previous editions and details of how to subscribe or buy individual issues, go to here

 

Where your tax pounds go

 

A new report from the Corner House suggests that Britain's Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), a little known government body that spends £4-5 billion each year of taxpayers' money providing guarantees and insurance for British companies seeking contracts overseas, has been routinely turning a blind eye to corruption and bribery in projects that it back. The report, Turning a Blind Eye: Corruption and the UK's Export Credits Guarantee Department by Dr. Susan Hawley is available from website: http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk

If you want to buy a hard copy, contact cornerhouse@gn.apc.org