20 December 2005
FROM DOHA TO HONG KONG VIA GENEVA (VI)
THE LESSONS OF HONG KONG
There was no repetition of the favourable results of Cancun. ‘They’ won. We lost. In what
sense is it their victory and what lessons can be drawn from it? That is the subject of this last
note in the series devoted to the 6th WTO Ministerial Conference. I want to thank the
Confederal Group of the United European Left/Nordic Green Left in the European
Parliament, which provided me with the means to carry out this work and to do so in
complete independence. These six notes as well as the five texts written for the daily paper
from Hong Kong can be found on the URFIG site (www.urfig.org) under the heading Hong
A VICTORY FOR BUSINESS, A SETBACK FOR THE PEOPLES
The Western political and media elite emphasise the benefits obtained by the developing
countries. But they fail to mention that in exchange for these crumbs parsimoniously
conceded by the Western governments, utterly subservient to the multinationals, developing
countries will have to bear the cost of decisions favourable to the rich countries. An honest
account of the Hong Kong Agreement requires a full presentation of what the developing
countries obtained and what the rich countries obtained, which the developing countries will
have to suffer.
The Southern countries were offered a promise and a commitment:
a) the promise: the right of developing countries to protect those of their products which are
of vital importance. But this is only a promise, and we know what promises are worth when
they come from the Europeans and the Americans; they have been making promises at the
WTO since 1994 and these have never been converted into concrete decisions.
b) the commitment: to eliminate export subsidies and equivalent measures by 2013. But
European export subsidies represent only 3.5% of the total support granted by the EU to its
agriculture. And their elimination ‘will be achieved in a progressive and parallel manner’,
which means, decoded, that the EU and the USA will be watching each other to make sure
they are advancing at the same rate. Some fine rows in prospect, and once again the victims
will be those who suffer from these subsidies.
The text neither provides for the elimination of the rich countries’ domestic subsidies which
entail dumping nor proposes a strengthening of control over the authorised aid. Worldwide
dumping will continue, destroying thousands of farms and shattering millions of lives. There
is no guarantee that developing countries will have significant enough access to Northern
And above all – although I admit this is part of a different logic – no provision has been
made to respect a fundamental right of peoples: food sovereignty. In the name of free trade, it
is intended to impose a system where the food supplies of the peoples will depend on a few
agri-food companies without the least respect for their right to choose their own food,
without the least respect for modes of production freely chosen by farmers, without the least
respect for quality of life and the context of life. Hong Kong opens the way to world
domination by a few large private agri-industry companies.
To hear the Brazilian Minister declare that it is Brazil’s vocation to feed the world, while
aware that Brazilian products are infected with GMOs, sends a shiver down one’s spine.
On cotton, the United States must eliminate all forms of export subsidies, but in the end this
only means complying with a court decision. And, above all, this does not affect the essential
issue, since export subsidies represent only 10% of the total amount involved. The proposal
does not settle the problem of domestic subsidies, which have been proven to distort trade
and facilitate dumping.
As the African Cotton Producers’ Association stresses: ‘There has not been any concrete
proposal on the most essential request, that of the elimination of domestic subsidies of the
Twenty-five thousand American producers carry more weight than millions of African
It raises a bitter smile to read that in Hong Kong the African countries were granted the right
to export their cotton to the United States, which is a net exporter of cotton. Who are they
OPENING OF THE MARKET TO NON-AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS
For the first time in the multilateral trading system, all WTO Members will be required to
apply a single customs duty reduction formula affecting all products.
In this way, rich countries’ manufactured products will be able to compete with those of
developing countries, with the latter unable to protect their own enterprises and
manufacturing businesses. As if the two groups were on an equal footing in such
Several studies have warned that such a decision represents the initiative most hostile to the
sustainable development (but does that expression still mean anything now that all the
liberals have brought it into disrepute?) of the Southern countries. Deindustrialisation is the
logical sequel to this market opening. It will hit a good number of developing countries
directly and immediately. But does anyone think for one moment that it will spare certain
The opening of the market to non-agricultural products also concerns natural resources,
including minerals, forests and fisheries. The environmental consequences could be
catastrophic for a planet whose survival is henceforth directly threatened by the harmful
effects of production-driven practices.
LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES (LDCs)
Beyond the excess of rhetoric about the need to meet the specific concerns of the LDCs,
rhetoric relayed with the same excess by most of the media, which have decidedly abandoned
any form of intellectual independence, the LDCs have obtained a gesture which calls for
critical examination: free access to the markets of the rich countries – ‘duty-free and quota-
free market access for products originating from LDCs’.
But the rich countries retain the right to limit this opening to 97% of the products originating
in the LDCs, which leaves them free to apply quotas and taxes on the remaining 3%, where it
is permissible for them to include the LDCs’ main exports: rice, sugar, textiles, for example.
As Martin Khor, Director of Third World Network, puts it, ‘The LDCs are only given rights
in areas where they cannot realise these rights.’
The GATS implementation negotiating terms which the European Union and its 25
governments wanted were adopted. Using the techniques described in my note IV of 5
December it will be possible to force states to liberalise service activities. A timetable has
even been drawn up designed to lead to concrete results by the end of 2006. No service
activity is safe, except the army, the courts, the forces of law and order, and national,
regional and local government administrative services. Health, education, transport, social
services and cultural and audio-visual services (and these are just a few examples), at
whatever territorial level and in whatever country they are provided, are henceforth the
targets of the most free-trading governments.
The concept of public service has never been so directly threatened.
For the developing countries, the flexibility contained in the GATS is no more than a dead
letter. And services meeting their basic needs (water, energy) will be accessible only to those
who can pay for them. It is easy to assess the consequences for agriculture.
For Europeans, our first reaction must be to say ‘no’ to the proposal for a European Services
Directive, better known as the Bolkestein proposal. That is the legal framework for adapting
the GATS to the European area. Rejecting it would mean winning the first battle in the
rejection of the GATS. We have a date in Strasbourg in February.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS AND HEALTH
A crime against humanity has now been legalised by the governments of WTO Member
States. Because the European Union, the USA and Switzerland mean to protect the copious
profits of the pharmaceutical multinationals, they have decided to set in stone, in an
international treaty, the provisional decision of 30 August 2003 on access to essential
medicines in countries without pharmaceutical production capacity. Well, it has been shown
that the mechanism established by this decision is impracticable.
Nothing has changed: sick people cannot be treated because medicine is too expensive. In
2005! The governments of the European Union and the political parties that support them are
utterly indifferent to the fate of millions of people. All they are proposing is a return to
charity, which is the most insidious negation of fundamental human rights.
Let us always bear this in mind, because the people who have taken part in this decision are
nothing but criminals.
CONCLUSIONS: THE NECESSARY FINAL BALANCE SHEET
It is time for the final balance sheet, which can be divided into three parts:
a) the economic progress claimed for the unregulated and unadjusted free trade
required by the WTO agreements has not been confirmed
The standard of living of the peoples has not improved. Where they experience advanced
applications following pressure from the World Bank and the IMF, free trade WTO-style has
caused loss of food self-sufficiency and the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs in
agriculture. China is often cited as an example of the success of the restoration of capitalism.
But the figures are not put in perspective. While 25 million Chinese – and we are happy for
them – have attained a decent standard of living, what about the other one billion, three
hundred and seventy-five million? A bourgeoisie has been reconstituted, that is all. But
where, then, on the planet, has the wealth produced by free trade to the benefit of a few
compensated for the resultant poverty among the many?
Consumer welfare has not improved. Governments, political parties and media seduced by
liberalism go on about consumers being the main beneficiaries of liberalisation. Does anyone
know of a case where the liberalisation of water distribution has resulted in a reduction in the
price per cubic metre supplied? Does anyone know of a case where the liberalisation of
electricity has resulted in a fall in the price per kilowatt? The complete opposite has
happened and African countries which have committed the error of believing in liberal
propaganda are now paying more for water of inferior quality which is no longer distributed
Free trade cannot be an end in itself. It is a means. And it is imperative for it to be put in
context and adapted. Put in context so that it serves objectives other than profit and, at the
very least, does not threaten them. Adapted, because free trade between players at different
levels always means the crushing of the weak by the strong. Now, the free trade imposed by
the WTO eliminates any kind of context and systematically ignores differences, all the while
proclaiming the opposite. But, there is not a single provision in the WTO agreements on the
private sector; there is not a single concrete and effective measure which adapts the
generalised deregulation imposed by these agreements to the country concerned.
b) the commitments made to developing countries, especially the poorest among them,
have not been kept
The pro-development phraseology inserted into the Marrakesh Protocol in 1994 in order to
obtain the assent of the developing countries which already belonged to the GATT to the
creation of the WTO and the application of rampant free trade to matters with only a distant
relationship with trade (understood as the exchange of goods and merchandise) has not been
converted into concrete decisions.
This same pro-development phraseology, wrapped around the negotiating programme agreed
at Doha with a view to strengthening the power of the WTO and extending rampant free
trade to new matters, failed to become more concrete in Hong Kong.
To be convinced of this one need only compare two provisions affecting the least advanced
Paragraph (2) of Article XI of the 1994 Agreement Establishing the WTO contains the
‘The least-developed countries recognized as such by the United Nations will only be
required to undertake commitments and concessions to the extent consistent with their
individual development, financial and trade needs or their administrative and institutional
In 2005, after 11 years of effort by the governments of the South and the NGOs, with
promises from the European governments, the European Commission, the USA, Japan and
their satellites, with the pro-development words repeated a thousand times by the Western
political players and their media stations, the result, in the text adopted in Hong Kong
(Annex F – Special and Different Treatment), is the following:
‘It is reaffirmed that least-developed country Members will only be required to undertake
commitments and concessions to the extent consistent with their individual development,
financial or trade needs, or their administrative and institutional capacities.’
Measurable progress achieved!!!
c) Hong Kong enshrines the failure of an illusion
Many governments, in the South, truly believed in the promises of the 1994 Marrakesh
Protocol and the 2001 Doha Round. Others did not believe in them, but they pretended to
forget that these promises had the sole aim of obtaining their adherence to proposals very
favourable to the rich countries.
Everyone based themselves on these texts in order to insist on their materialisation. We have
therefore witnessed, in Geneva, during the four years of negotiations that have followed
Doha, the reminders, sometimes pathetic, but always in vain, of the guidelines established in
the programme inaccurately christened the ‘Doha Development Agenda’.
Along with those governments, a certain number of NGOs took the Marrakesh and Doha
promises literally. They engaged in an intense effort of analysis and proposals with a view to
making them a reality. They gave priority to a ‘constructive dialogue’ with institutions such
as the European Commission and the WTO. They have pushed the governments of the South
and those of Africa in particular to negotiate agreements which would have been more
balanced and would have allowed them to extract the best from a free trade suddenly put in
context and adapted. They have also given credit to negotiations where all the dice are
They have entertained the illusion that it was possible because they have entertained the
illusion of the good faith of European and US liberals of right and left when they speak of
development and solidarity. They have entertained the illusion that the WTO could function
in accordance with the rule of law. They have made people believe that gangsters could
behave like angels.
The failure of Hong Kong is also the failure of this strategy followed by the Southern
governments and the NGOs advising them. Now the consequences have to be drawn. The
worst choice would be to persevere.
There are, in the North and in the South, associations and NGOs carrying out remarkable
analytical and teaching work and making no mistake about the reality staring them in the
face. There are, in the North and in the South, parliamentarians standing up to neo-liberalism
and not staying content with merely attenuating its disastrous effects.
In Hong Kong, African parliamentarians spoke with competence and conviction on the
GATS (see their appeal on the URFIG website). They rejected Annex C. They were not
listened to. Because they are isolated.
For those who do not want a merchandised world, learning the lessons of Hong Kong means
building a new internationalism based on respect for differences and complementarity of
convictions, but also enriching the meshing of anti-globalist networks with a credible
We have entered a 21st century where the proposed modernity consists, in the name of reform
now at the service of political and social regression, in returning to 19th century practices of
local and international exploitation.
How can we fail to feel deeply what is at stake: the sovereignty of peoples and, beyond that,
the dignity of the human being? The political and social victories our elders fought for,
sometimes at the sacrifice of their lives, are the direct targets of the WTO agreements and the
negotiations in progress. Depriving universal suffrage of all effectiveness, depriving public
authorities of all capacity to act, dismantling wealth redistribution systems, that is what the
liberals of right and left, in the pay of the bosses, are doing when they negotiate at the WTO.
How can we fail to recognise that the rights laid down by the UN in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, three texts
regarded as the greatest advances made by humanity, are now being systematically trampled
The liberals of right and left used the same strategy at the WTO to challenge decolonisation
as they are using in Europe to challenge universal suffrage, fundamental individual and
collective rights and organised solidarity: granting restrictive powers to institutions
(European Union, WTO) outside democratic control or, if you like, taking back from above
everything that has been conceded at national level and repudiating elsewhere everything that
has been established in the framework of the UN.
Who can fail to see that the same re-establishment of conservatism is at work on the part of
liberals of right and left when they say ‘yes’ to the Treaty establishing a Constitution for
Europe and ‘yes’ to WTO agreements?
How can we fail to raise today the old call to unity of all the victims of what was called
capitalism not so long ago but has now been re-christened neo-liberalism and which, today as
yesterday, signifies the power of money?
How can we fail to recognise that the struggle has never ceased and that yesterday we were
barbarians who became slaves and then plebs, later serfs, more recently the proletariat, today
the rabble, but always the exploited, even if some of us, because of where we come from
geographically, have once again become accomplices, despite ourselves, to an exploitation of
which, today with the WTO as yesterday with colonisation, Europe and the USA are the
From Spartacus to Che, we have suffered many defeats. But the struggle continues. No defeat
will ever destroy the dignity that lies within each human being. As night fell on Hong Kong,
the sun was rising on La Paz.
Today there is great suffering. But in that suffering let us find the will to resist.
Rabble of the world, unite!
Raoul Marc JENNAR
Researcher for the Social Movement