Friday, December 09, 2005

WTO Statement for YPSEA

WTO was established as a platform for trade negotiation but we believe that a “one size fits all” solution to solve the problem of international trade is not at all viable as each country especially the developing countries have peculiarities and specificities that would require different approaches.

In the past WTO negotiations, WTO had transformed the world economy game from rules based to power based system. The few most powerful countries have more say than the others. Information and negotiating capacities of WTO member countries has been asymmetrical, favoring the developed countries, and the chance to speak in the negotiation table is not equally shared by all delegates.

The underlying principle in the WTO is based on the economic philosophy of laissez-faire, which privileges the powerful companies and corporations. Thus, Young Progressive for Southeast Asia (YPSEA), stands for the following reforms in the WTO:

1) We call for a reform in the WTO negotiation process and also demand the involvement of International Labor Organization (ILO) during the negotiation to safeguard the benefit of workers.

2) WTO should uphold the platform for fair trade, not a free trade. The implementation of lower tariffs will only lead to a ‘race to the bottom’ and a weakened role of the state in solving internal economic problem.

3) Members of WTO should be aware that each region and each country is developed in an uneven manner. The negotiation in each WTO Ministerial meeting had excluded many industrial sectors such as small farmers, small-medium enterprise (SME), workers and many others, who do not have sustainable jobs and do not benefited from growth. The negotiation should not only concern the profits and losses of big corporations but also the welfare of the people and development.

4) All the agreements should be done based on democratic principles.

5) We call upon the governments of Southeast Asian countries to unite and negotiate the trade issues based on the welfare and interests of its citizens.

Hence, YPSEA believes that negotiations should be built upon an equal platform and the result of negotiations should benefit all member countries.

Young Progressives Southeast Asia Brochure

Please feel free to download and print (back-to-back) the brochure files.

Conference Summary
3rd Regional Seminar
Young Progressives Southeast Asia

The third regional seminar of the Young Progressives Southeast Asia (YPSEA) network was held last October 24 to 27, 2005, at the Magellan Room of the Discovery Centre in Pasig City, Philippines. With the theme “Young People Shaping Globalization,” the conference featured lectures, discussions, and workshops on the World Trade Organization (WTO), the trade regime it promotes and is embedded in, and its differential and uneven impact on the global economy. Also relevant were efforts to map out possible strategies and techniques that would hopefully lead to the construction of a more humane global economic order.

Knowing the WTO

The starting point of the seminar is the diversity of perspectives on the WTO. Official discourses emanating from the WTO and neoliberal institutions, individuals, and think thanks, for example, hail the organization as “democratic” and capable of furthering development. More critical minded actors, on the other hand, assert that the WTO and free trade have led to increased inequality and poverty. In the face of these competing perspectives, there is a real need to re-examine existing conceptions of the WTO and come up with a more nuanced position.

A significant portion of the seminar was devoted on exploring how the WTO is characterized by and is embedded within unequal power relations. Within the Organization, for example, power asymmetry exists, with industrialized and northern countries having more influence than countries from the global south. At the same time, economically advanced countries have more capacity when it comes to negotiations. Multinational corporations (MNCs) also exert undue influence on processes within the organization, thereby belying claims that WTO is an institution for democratic global governance.

After looking at the asymmetries that characterize the WTO, the seminar turned to the impact of the WTO on the global south, particularly on Southeast Asia. Although it was recognized that it is difficult to isolate the specific impacts of the WTO, it was affirmed that it is still possible to come up with general statements about the WTO. In particular, it was seen that the WTO has been instrumental in neoliberalism’s attainment of its near-hegemonic status. Similarly, it was seen that the policies forwarded by the WTO has led to economic, political, and social forms of exclusion that foment global conflict and instability.

In the area of labor, for example, the WTO, contrary to its mantra of liberalization, actually re-regulates the flow of workers. It does this by re-defining and classifying what kinds of movements are permitted (e.g., restricted to certain occupational categories, not defined as labor, temporary only). In this sense, the discourse of freedom that the WTO engages in is, in fact, misleading and only serves to conceal how the WTO privileges the interests of a few countries and MNCs.

In the area of health, it was pointed out that WTO policies have led to increased poverty and inequality which, in turn, have led to the intensification of public health problems. Classic public health problems are seeing resurgence while emergent diseases are increasingly becoming threats to public life. Consistent with the neoliberal policies advocated by the WTO and other international institutions, governments have increasingly cut down on public health services. Such policies have also led to the continued domination of big pharmaceutical companies. With the intellectual property rights regime, drug availability has become problematic. In addition, the present economic order encourages labor migration which leads to brain drain in the health sector and to increased medical costs. Together, these phenomena impinge on the right to live a healthful life.

Finally, in the area of education, it was pointed out that the WTO has had both direct and indirect impact. Directly, it has encouraged the privatization of education services. Indirectly, its policies have led to the increase of poverty incidence which causes an increase in the number of out of school youth and children. With the GATS, education will be transformed on at least five fronts: enrollment (global demand will be emphasized vis-à-vis social demands), governance structure (emphasis on inter- and multi-disciplinarity; valorization of international recognition and accreditation), functions and roles (increased salience of continuing education), modes of delivery, and educational divide (migration will lead to brain drain and low quality of education).

Considering the impact of WTO and neoliberal trade and economic policies on the majority of the world’s population, it became clear during the seminar that there is an urgent need for a new framework that will govern international trade, one that is anchored on a people-centered vision of development. Such an alternative framework partly requires a movement away from an unhealthy reliance on national and international elites. It also requires renewed efforts at community-building and formation of future leaders.

In the context of grappling with alternatives to the WTO-led free trade regime, the participants of the seminar had to confront the question of whether or not the WTO should be abolished. Various positions on the issue were presented. In the end, however, a consensus emerged that while the current status of the WTO is unacceptable, it should not be abolished because there is a need for multilateral institutions of global governance. Instead, the WTO should be reformed on the basis of justice, transparency, and accountability.

During the seminar, it became apparent that in pursuing an alternative trade regime, progressive forces should not forget the role of states. That is, while regional initiatives are important, states remain important sites of resistance. Neoliberal policies are, after all, partially authored by them. Moreover, as the experience of the Philippines suggests, state action remains important. However, states are effective if they engage other stakeholders in the crafting and implementation of trade policies; if they are able to master the technical language of the WTO, as well as other skills needed in trade negotiations; if they have credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the public; and if they are able to cooperate with other countries from the global south.

It was also emphasized that in addition to states, regional organizations can play in the construction of an alternative trade regime. It is in this context that the need to strengthen the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was underscored.

The role of social movements and civil society actors in crafting a new trade regime was likewise affirmed during the seminar. The participants, however, noted that social movements and civil society actors face several challenges in their quest for a more just trade regime. In addition to the need to acquire technical competence, progressive forces face capacity issues such as financial and technological needs. There is also the problem of responsiveness of policymakers. In Germany and the European Union, for example, trade unions have problems having an impact on policymakers. Moreover, with the rising popularity of civil society discourse, there is the danger of cooptation. Indeed, there are arguments saying that the proliferation of civil society organizations is, in fact, consistent with the emphasis of neoliberalism on “rolling back the state.”

Finally, it was recognized that there is a need to disaggregate “the West.” This means that it is important to recognize that within developed countries, there exist progressive forces that are sympathetic to the causes of developing and least developed countries. Hence, in addition to South-to-South cooperation, progressive forces in the South also need to work with progressive forces in the North.

Simulating the WTO

A core feature of the seminar is a simulation of the WTO where participants were assigned to represent various countries (United States, the European Union, Japan, India, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, and Pakistan) in a negotiation round focusing on agricultural subsidies. Participants were given mission orders detailing the objectives of their respective countries for the negotiation.

Countries belonging to the G20 proposed a three-band approach to the reduction of agricultural subsidies: countries that provide support totaling over $60 billion would have to cut by 80 percent, those with support of $10-60 billion would cut by 75 percent, and those with $0-10 billion would cut by 70 percent. Developing countries should be in a separate band for overall cuts. On LDCs, they should be exempt from reduction commitments; developed countries should provide duty-and quota-free access to all products originating from LDCs; steps should be taken to promote their export capacities, including addressing their supply constraints.

Northern countries, on the other hand, moved towards the softening of the G20’s stance. While supporting in principle the three-band approach, northern countries negotiated that they be placed in the middle or lower band. They also maneuvered to accentuate the cracks and divisions among the G20. In addition, they offered technical assistance in the form of military aid, debt-equity swap in intellectual property rights, soft loans, and capacity-building measures. Moreover, they moved that agricultural subsidies of developing countries be reduced.

Initially, G20 countries were successful in derailing the negotiations. However, the governments of northern countries began pressuring the governments of the G20 countries, asking that their trade negotiators “behave” in the negotiation process. At the same time, MNCs, such as Monsanto, began lobbying G20 countries. As notes and letters from their governments started to arrive, one by one, G20 countries began acceding to the wishes of northern countries. Ultimately, the proposal of the G20 was rejected and the proposal of the United States was accepted. This happened despite the attempts of civil society actors to influence the negotiation process.

After the simulation, a debriefing session was held. Participants expressed their views and constructive criticisms on the simulation. Many participants expressed disappointment with the outcome of the simulation. This is especially true for the participants representing G20 countries. They would have pursued their stance, except that they received instructions from their home governments to take a different position. Several participants also pointed out that there exists an information asymmetry in the simulation, with northern countries having access to more information. This enabled northern countries to take advantage of Southern countries. Some of the participants noted that the simulation highlighted the need for progressive forces to take action at the level of both the state and the WTO. However, a few participants noted that the simulation tends to emphasize that trade problems lie more on governments than on the WTO itself. Cautioning against oversimplification, they argued that the WTO itself is a flawed institutional arrangement for global trade. Finally, several participants noted that in addition to looking at power politics within the WTO, the simulation points to the need to consider cultural and epistemic factors in looking at the Organization.

The organizers responded by noting that the simulation is actually a work in progress. They also noted that there was a need for simplicity and to factor in the role of domestic politics. The organizers pointed out that while the simulation focused on a single issue, real negotiations are multi-faceted and complex. They challenged the participants to enrich the simulation by studying closely the rules of the WTO and by forwarding their suggestions to the secretariat. An effective simulation, they emphasized, will help progressives come face-to-face with the dilemmas inherent in the WTO issue. In the end, an effective simulation will help progressive groups understand and critique the WTO.

Preparing for the future: The WTO Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong and beyond

A network meeting was held during the third day of the seminar. The meeting tackled the following issues: comparative research on education; organizational structure and membership; and plans for activities.

A presentation on the current status of the comparative research on education was given, after which the body decided to affirm Marie Chris Cabreros’ appointment as point person for the research. It was also agreed that the three members of the education committee (who all hail from Indonesia) should meet and discuss what steps to take. Finally, it was agreed that country coordinators for the research will have to be appointed.

After a lengthy discussion on the issue of organizational structure and membership, the body agreed that membership will be open to organizations. However, individuals may become affiliate members of the network. The premium placed on organizations is partly due to the recognition that youth struggles take place in the context of organizations. It is also a way of encouraging interested individuals to organize in their particular contexts.

Furthermore, the body agreed that official membership to the network will be contingent on the recommendation of one of the founding and/or existing member organizations. Also, the application of prospective members will only be considered after two years of active participation in the network’s activities. While waiting for their official membership, applying organizations will be invited to participate as observers in the network’s endeavors.

With regard to organizational structure, the body agreed, on an ad hoc basis, that the highest policy making body will be the general assembly. It will be composed of the representatives of the various member-organizations. No individual will be allowed to participate in the general assembly. The body also agreed that the implementing or executive body of the network will be an executive committee composed of a coordinator and three other members. The members of the executive committee will come from different countries. Countries that are part of the executive committee will be chosen on a rotation basis. The main task of the executive committee will be to implement the decisions of the general assembly. It was likewise agreed upon that a secretariat, whose main task would be to coordinate activities, will be formed. In the absence of funding and other resources, a member organization will be asked to act as the network’s secretariat. Finally, the body agreed that coordinating bodies will be constituted per country. Those bodies will be composed of the representatives of the member organizations in that country. A contact person will also be identified per country. It was also noted that member-individuals of the network will be given opportunities to participate in the country-level coordinating bodies. However, it was emphasized in the meeting that country-level bodies are not forms of bureaucracy but are mere tools for coordination.

The body then approved the creation of a preparatory committee for the general assembly / regional conference next year (May 2006). The members of the committee are Lee Ying Ha (Malaysia), Metha Matkhao (Thailand), Tunggal Pawestri (Indonesia), and Jonas Bagas / Marie Chris Cabreros (The Philippines). The committee will prepare a proposal for the body’s consideration. The proposal will be submitted to the FES office by late November.

In line with the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong this December, the body agreed to come up with a statement that will be circulated in the members’ respective countries, as well as during the ministerial meeting itself. The statement, the body agreed, should be catchy and general enough so it can be localized. The Malaysia Youth and Student Democratic Movement (DEMA) volunteered to draft the statement. It will be circulated for approval by mid-November.

Considering the lack of time and resources, the body agreed that those who will go to Hong Kong in December will bring the YPSEA flag, circulate the network’s statement, and sign statements and co-organize events on the network’s behalf. In the meantime, members of the network are urged to research via the internet possible activities or statements that the network can do or sign.

At the country level, the body agreed to sponsor events that will carry the network’s name. Such events include the circulation of national statements, forums on the WTO (on what’s bad about it and on possible alternatives to it), the production of toolkits (simulation games, how tos, etc.), workshops, campus tours, and media campaigns.

After discussing network activities related to the WTO ministerial meeting, the body identified possible activities for 2006. These activities are outlined in the table below.

Possible Activity

Regional Conference

Possible location: Dili, Cambodia, or Malaysia
Possible themes: democratization, election, gender and political participation, the ASEAN, the evolution of the capitalist system and its impact on progressive struggles, foreign debt
(It was noted that there is a need for in-depth [vs. broad] discussion. It was also noted that suggested themes may be combined.)

Capability-building measures

Manuals for organizing
Exposure trips
“best practices”
Possible themes: conflict resolution, electoral interventions, media campaigns

Study exchange

With European groups (c/o FES)
Will be done once the network is formally established


Books, studies, education research, briefing papers in various languages

The seminar and the network meeting were adjourned after the identification of activities for 2006.

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