The World Trade Organization

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The Wealthy Taking Over?

Sightings from The Catbird Seat

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From the WTO website:

What is the WTO?

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business. . . .

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October 14, 2002


Farmers from North America to Australia and beyond were supposed to win big when China joined the WTO. But in the past nine months its food imports have fallen.

By Robyn Meredith, Forbes

FREE TRADE BETWEEN TWO COUNTRIES should make both better off.

Think of all the chicken feet that are nothing better than scrap in a U.S. slaughterhouse, but in China would be appetizers in restaurants.

Why aren’t America’s chicken feet on a fast boat to China? Tariffs on these delicacies are falling because of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. But suddenly routine import licenses for them carry restrictions and take two weeks to process instead of the previous two days.

James Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, figures U.S. poultry producers have lost $200 million in business to China this year because of red tape and other non-tariff barriers.

China’s admission to the WTO was supposed to be a boon for ranchers and farmers around the world; the U.S for instance, was expected to sell an additional $2 billion a year in farm products to China by 2005.

“That’s not going to happen,” says a Western agriculture expert in Beijing.

Nine months after China joined the WTO, not only have all the promised gains in agriculture failed to materialize, but China’s ag imports from the U.S. have dropped. They were down 23% to $841 million for the first six months of this year – the first decline since 1990.

How did this happen?

“China’s adherence to the deal has been pretty dicey,” says Phillip Laney, the country director for China for the American Soybean Association.

“They’re playing technical games.”

In the first six months of this year U.S. soybean sales plunged 42% from the 2001 period, to $376 million.

The problem with our soybeans: They are genetically modified.

For the previous several years China had no restrictions on genetically modified crops. In fact, China is second only to the U.S. in agricultural biotech-research spending. But around the time China entered the WTO, Chinese officials suddenly became concerned about modified beans. We’re not talking about tofu ingredients here: American soybeans are sold to chicken and pig farmers as protein supplements.

China rules on Dec. 20 whether or not to allow the import of genetically engineered soybean crops. The uncertainty is enough to stop some exporters from sending ships full of beans across the Pacific.

Which way will China go? U.S. farm and trade delegates have gone to evaluate the situation, but none seem confident about the prospects for U.S. beans.

“We worked exhaustively to get China into the WTO because it’s such a potentially great market, and we expected a good faith effort to comply with WTO rules, but we’ve come face-to-face with artificial trade barriers,” says Illinois Farm Bureau President Ron R. Warfield.

China insists that it is complying with WTO rules. It has cut tariffs, reduced the number of goods for which import licenses are required and written new laws to open service trades, says Gao Yan, speaking for the ministry of foreign trade. . . .

The WTO permits a country to maintain safety standards for food. Conveniently, China has a zero-tolerance policy for salmonella in raw chicken. U.S. exporters can’t meet that standard. Neither can Chinese chicken processors, but the rule is not enforced against Chinese. . . .

Loser: Tyson Foods, whose sales to China were off 17% for the third quarter (ending June 29).

If the Chinese agriculture market can be pried open, it will be a big one, and not only because of China’s population of 1.3 billion. Think of farming in China as being more like gardening: Millions of farmers till small plots, and rural per capita income typically ranges from between $200 and $300 a year. Despite low labor costs, China is not a low-cost producer for such commodities as wheat and corn.

Agriculture is always the toughest part of a market to open, and China’s was expected to be no exception, since 450 million of its population are farmers.

But the U.S. (like Canada and the European Union) provides lavish subsidies to its farmers, giving them an unfair advantage over those Chinese peasants.

And how can we talk about free trade when we protect inefficient steelmakers with tariffs?

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Catbird comment: Maybe I’m overlooking something here, Mr. Forbes, but why would 450 million Chinese farmers be better off buying genetically modified food from the United States’ corporate giants like Conagra, Archer-Daniels-Midland and Tyson Foods, rather than growing organic food for themselves – or for export?

If these 450 million small Chinese farmers lose their market share to imports, what are they going to do to earn the money to buy the imported food to put on their tables?

Can you enlighten me, Mr. Forbes? Please.

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For more, GO TO > > > The Biotech Birds

< < < FLASHBACK < < <

January 15, 2002

Bush Urges Expanding Trade

By Sonya Ross, Associated Press

AURORA, Mo. – President Bush stumped across the Midwest yesterday with a pitch for increased trade and help for American farmers, weaving in Sept. 11 patriotism and insisting anew that any repeal or delay of his tax cut “would be a disaster for the American economy.”

The president began a two-day trip through three states along the Mississippi River, a journey designed to illustrate how agriculture, manufacturing and exports help the economy. He made the trip with a red scrape on his left cheek, an injury he received Sunday when he fainted after gulping a pretzel as he watched football on TV. . . .

He visited a John Deere factory in Moline, Ill., and a feed mill in Aurora, Mo., to argue for expanded trade as a means of halting recession. Then he was heading to Louisiana for a visit today to the port of New Orleans, the last stop for many agricultural goods destined for overseas markets.

In Springfield, Mo., Bush told a crowd at an airport hanger that the United States is clearly able to grow more than enough food to feed its own people, and therefore its farmers should be given a chance to put their products into more markets worldwide.

“Let us compete and when we can compete in a fair way, we whip anybody when it comes to selling food,” he said.

Later in Aurora, Bush called on Congress to approve a farm bill that encourages greater trading in U.S. agricultural products along five basic principles: That the government can afford it; that it does not lead to overproduction that can deflate prices; that it includes incentives for good conservation practices; supports “our strong commitment to trade”; and established farm savings accounts. . . .

Bush also put in a pitch for authority to negotiate “fast-track” trade agreements, which Congress could reject but not change. . . .

After watching a load of Blue Ribbon Sweet Feed dropped from a towering storage facility into a holding container, Bush acknowledged that some farmers, skeptical of unfilled promises by presidents, may grouse, “Here comes old Bush from Texas, and he says he’s for the farmer” when it comes to trade agreements, but assured he would be different.

“That’s not the way it’s going to be, folks, because I understand how important agriculture is,” Bush said.

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August 1, 2000In Motion Magazine:

The Impact of Globalization on Family Farm Agriculture

The increasing role of the multi-national corporations in controlling both the inputs and the marketing of our commodities jeopardizes our very existence.

Bill Christison, Porto Alegre, Brazil

(Bill Christison is president of both the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and the U.S. National Family Farm Coalition. This speech was presented at the RIAD International Forum July 5, 2000 Porto Alegre, Brazil.)

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I am pleased to be here representing family farmers from the United States who are members of the National Family Farm Coalition.

My family farm is in Missouri. We raise soybeans, corn, wheat, hay and cattle on 2,000 acres. I also serve as the President of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center representing over 5,000 farm families who are fighting to preserve family farm agriculture.

The fight we are waging is not just local or national. It is global.

As family farmers, many of the barriers to our profitability and survivability are the same – whether in Brazil, France, Canada, Mexico, or the U.S.

The increasing role of the multi-national corporations in controlling both the inputs and the marketing of our commodities jeopardizes our very existence.

I know from my travels as President of the NFFC and from contacts with farmers from other regions of the world through Via Campesina, that many farmers think that all is rosy in the farm economy in the United States. Some of this is due to how U.S. farmers are misrepresented by groups within their own country who participate in many meetings and receive a great deal of media coverage.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which sells crop insurance to farmers, and the commodity groups, who tax farmers to “promote” the farmers’ product, are two examples of groups that misrepresent farmers.

Both groups use the money they receive from farmer’s pockets to lobby for the industrialization of agriculture and other measures in the corporate interest.

While the U.S. economy continues to grow, it is leaving rural America behind and it is at the expense of farmers and other workers in our society. The truth is that there is a very severe farm crisis in the United States and it is on the verge of forcing most of the family-sized farmers in our nation off the land. The situation is very similar in Canada. The NFU- Canada reports sums up the current conditions this way:

“In the 1930’s, it took a worldwide economic collapse, a stock market crash, mass unemployment, and a prairie-wide drought to drive net farm incomes to negative values. Today, stock markets are booming, employment levels are fair, the weather is generally good and crops are average or better. The current farm income crisis is unprecedented in times of economic prosperity and stability.”

My presentation will discuss the impacts of corporate globalization in terms of increasing concentration in the agricultural sector and the real costs to family farmers of our failed domestic farm policy that was enacted in 1996, known as Freedom to Farm.

I will provide examples of what the current situation is in the United States and Canada and provide some solutions that we have developed that if implemented would reverse the current trend towards industrialization.

What does globalization mean to me as a family farmer in the U.S?

It means domestic policies that support international deals which are in the interests of corporate agribusiness.

These policies are created in Board rooms of companies motivated by profit and not the economic health of the farmer, the health of the consumer or the vitality of the rural community.

Globalization means policies in the United States that force our prices as low as possible by removing an effective commodity loan rate or reserve; these policies force the world price to levels that are unsustainable for farmers around the world.

Globalization means that the number of farms in the United States that gross between 50,000 and 249,999 (18.2%) of the farms now only represents 21.1% of the total market value. 73.6% of the nation’s farms share 6.8% of the market value of agricultural products sold while 7.2% of the farms receive 72.1% of the market value of products sold. There is an increasing shift towards the largest operations.

Globalization means that prices for farmers have fallen on the farm while the profits of corporate agribusiness have reached record highs. In his April 2000 testimony before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, Professor C. Robert Taylor of Auburn University presented his views in a statement entitled, ” The Closing Circle of Global Food Companies.”

In his section on Manifestations of Economic Power, he presents data that shows that the retail cost of a market basket at the grocery store for consumers remained almost constant for the 15 years between 1984 – 1999. He further notes, “Since 1984, the real price of a market basket of food has increased by 3%, while the farm value of that food has fallen by 38%.” . . .

The Canadian experience with grain prices and company profit is the same as the United States. The NFU-Canada report states:

“While the farmer growing cereal grains – wheat, oats, corn – earn negative returns and are pushed close to bankruptcy, the companies that make breakfast cereals reap huge profits.

“In 1998, cereal companies Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats, and General Mills enjoyed return on equity rates of 56%, 165% and 222% respectively. While a bushel of corn sold for less than $4, a bushel of corn flakes sold for $133.

“In 1998, cereal companies were 186 to 740 times more profitable than the farms. Maybe farmers are making too little because others are taking too much.”

It means that when consumers shop, a declining share is received by farmers. In 1999, farmers were receiving 21 cents of the $1.00; while ten years ago, the level was 32 cents. This is at a time of increasing costs of production for farmers. … The goals of the World Food Summit in Rome are not being met on either a worldwide level or in the United States. Despite a booming economy, there is record demand for emergency food distribution in our country as many remain hungry.

It means unprecedented mergers, acquisitions, and concentration in all stages of the agricultural production, marketing, and retailing.

Recent reports by Bill Heffernan at the University of Missouri-Columbia track the clusters of agribusiness firms. They have been identified as: Cargill/Continental/Monsanto ConAgra Archer Daniels-Midland(ADM)/ Novartis Farmland Industries/Cenex Harvest States/Land O’ Lakes Cooperatives. . . .

Their report cites that ” Two companies, IBP and Cargill, dominate the beef packing sector with 74% of Canadian capacity. Four companies (DuPont/Pioneer, Monsanto, Novartis, and Dow) control 69% of the North American seed corn market and 47% of the soybean seed market. At the end of 1998, Monsanto controlled 87% of the U.S. cotton-seed market and sold 88% of the genetically engineered seeds in the U.S.”

The excitement surrounding the technology of genetic engineering by the U.S. government and corporations has fueled this greater concentration in the seed industry and has severely limited farmers’ choices in what kinds of seed they can buy.

Globalization means factory hog farms moving into rural communities throughout the Southeast and Midwest.

These operations impose economic and environmental hardship on farmers and consumers. The production practices – thousands of hogs in a small area – pollute the water, soil, and air while their overproduction lowers the price for most other hog farmers.

These factory hog operations are thriving due to low grain prices. They can buy the feed for much less that it would cost to produce.

The US has lost 70% of independent hog farmers in the last 15 years. These same economic conditions accelerate the production of cattle in Brazil and other countries. There is an abuse of the land due to the practices while farmers receive low prices.

However, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center has started a project, called Patchwork Family Farms, that buys pork that has been produced in an environmentally friendly way. The farmers who have produced the pork receive a fair price that covers the cost of their production. The corporate middle-men such as Smithfield are out of the picture. We are dealing with businesses and people in our rural community who care.

Globalization means Factory Dairy Farms.

Record low dairy prices are fueling expansion of dairy farms throughout the country. These operations are buying up the cows from farmers forced to sell out due to low prices. Bovine Growth Hormone (rBST) is being used to increase production, resulting in even more milk on the market further depressing prices and threatening the environment.

Globalization means the loss of local credit or banks that understand the rural community.

Instead, CITIBANK and other international banking operations have imposed banking standards that ignore the real-life situations in the farming community. The local banker has lost most of their say in decision-making and the computerized calculation of cash flow and repayment ability usually translates into higher risk lending which means higher interest rates at the time we can least afford it.

Globalization means the loss of farm land in the United States and a dramatic loss of farmers who are able to make a full-time living from the farm.

According to the most recent Agricultural Census, there are 1.9 million farms left in the United States. But of this number, there are only 554,000 farms, according to a recent USDA report, that generate gross revenues greater than $50,000 per year. While the number of farms run by families remained at about 85% from 1978-1992, the share of the output from these farms dropped from 62-54%.

Another grave problem in the United States is that the amount of minority-owned farmland in the United States continues to drop. According to the 1997 Ag Census, there are less than 18,000 African-American farmers left in the United States. A major class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture was won by Black farmers in the US last year, but unfortunately the monetary settlements are coming very slowly and there are major problems associated with changing the attitudes and practices that has caused the discrimination over decades.

The continued loss of farms is due to the loss of income. The only farmers that have been able to stay in business have been those with a lot of equity, have little debt, or have been able to work off-farm. The long-term situation is very bleak when you look at the equity returns as discussed in Taylor’s report. The 2.38% annual return for farmers is compared to retail food returns at 18%, food manufacturers at 17.2%, banks at 10.8%.

Where Are We Today?

The failure of the Seattle round of the WTO may help change the perception that free trade and an export-dependent policy is the answer.

The international free- trade model encourages a form of agricultural production that externalizes its costs as much as possible, particularly the costs of land stewardship, labor, and food safety. That is, NAFTA and WTO require American farmers to adopt factory-style agricultural operations in order to survive.

Record drops in net farm income translate into sub-poverty wages. As Robert Scott’s report, Exported to Death, released by the Economic Policy Institute states, “But, for family farmers, the Omnibus Farm Bill – and the export-led growth strategy upon which it was based – has been a massive failure.”

The U.S. farm trade balance declined by nearly $12 billion between 1996-1998, and prices have plummeted. US corn prices dropped from $4.30/bushel in 1996 to $1.89 in 1998; or 56 percent. Wheat prices fell from $4.57 in 1996 to $2.46 in 1998 or 46%.

While many US economists and legislators continue to proclaim the virtues of the free market and the need for expansion of trade such as the recent debate about China and extending permanent ‘normal trade relations’, there are some economists that are starting to directly question the current situation facing farmers.

Daryll Ray, an agricultural economist at the University of Tennessee has argued very eloquently that the reduction of government price and income supports coupled with the destabilizing effects of international trade will continue to suppress agricultural prices into the next century . He has also stated that, “Contrary to the USDA’s rosy predictions, the plight of farmers is likely to get worse under current policies.”

The 1996 farm bill manipulates commodity loan rates, federal payments to farmers, and other mechanisms in order that the market yields the lowest possible prices for family farmers. The failure of the Farm Bill is best dramatized by the need for the past two year’s emergency disaster payments of over $6 billion per year. Unfortunately the farmers who have lost the most are not necessarily receiving these payments as they are distributed by the same mechanism as the “freedom to farm” decoupled farm payments – and even with these payments the losses are much greater.

During the WTO meeting in Seattle, NFFC actively participated in meetings with Via Campesina which represents family farm and peasant organizations and movements throughout the world. There were strong consensus positions emerging from these meetings about a future food security policy that strongly values farmers and rural communities in the process.

The major position was to call for “Agriculture out of the WTO.”

Other components of the Seattle Declaration issued by Via Campesina include:

“Via Campesina rejects the neo-liberal policies that push countries into cash crop export production at the expense of domestic food production. These policies contribute to low commodity prices that are far lower than the real cost of production.”

Developing countries are forced to adopt these policies in order to pay their external debt. These countries must also open their borders to the importation of food which leads to even greater debt. The governments of the rich countries are giving massive subsidies without limit per farm in order to compensate price cuts and allows the TNCs to buy cheaply. This way these public funds are a direct support for industry and not for farmers. This is a vicious circle which benefits only the TNCs.

There is no doubt that the WTO is an instrument that places greater control and profits in the hands of the TNCs.

The WTO is a totally inappropriate institution for democratic decision- making and policy formulation on important issues such as food sovereignty, health and environmental legislation, management of genetic resources, water, forestry and land, and the organisation of agricultural markets.

A profound reform of the WTO in order to make it respond to the rights and needs of people would mean the abolition of the WTO itself! We do not believe that the WTO will allow such a profound reform. Therefore, the Via Campesina, as an international movement responsible for the agricultural sector, demands that agriculture should be taken out of the WTO.

Perhaps more appropriately, let’s take the WTO out of agriculture.

We invite other sectors to demand the same. We, as societies, must create an alternative to the current neo-liberal policies and to institutions such as the WTO, WB and the IMF. We must civilize these international policies and institutions. The Via Campesina invites social movements to initiate a participatory process with national governments to further develop an alternative model. This alternative should include the following:

Establish alternatives to the neo-liberal policies and institutions such as the WTO, WB and the IMF. Continue to mobilize public opinion to pressure TNCs and large trading powers. Strengthen the UN and develop new instruments within the UN system to increase transparency and democratic control. These institutions should represent the priorities and needs of people and ensure food security and fair trade.

The Via Campesina has the following demands:

>> A immediate moratorium on further WTO negotiations. This includes also to stop all discussion on agreements on investment.

>> To immediately cancel the obligation of accepting the minimum importation of 5% of internal consumption. All compulsory market access clauses must be canceled.

>> An evaluation of the impacts of the Marrakech agreement and an immediate correction of existing injustices.

>> To remove all negotiation in the areas of food production and marketing from the WTO and from all regional and bilateral agreements.

>> To create genuine international democratic mechanisms to regulate food trade while respecting food sovereignty in each country.

>> To secure food sovereignty in each and every country giving priority to food production of its people, social aspects and environment.

>> To give each country the right to define their own agricultural policies in order to meet their internal needs. This includes the right to prohibit imports in order to protect domestic production and to implement Agrarian Reform providing peasants and small to medium-sized producers with access to land.

>> To stop all forms of dumping. To protect the production of staple domestic foods.

>> To prohibit biopiracy and patents on life (animal, plants, parts of the human body) including the development of sterile varieties through genetic engineering.

>> To allow countries the right to establish food quality criteria appropriate to the preference of its people.

Via Campesina wants to support the International Tribunal of Peoples that has to judge the crimes committed against farming and indigenous communities.

Via Campesina calls upon international and national movements, and non-governmental organizations to build strong alliances to continue to fight these neo-liberal policies and to build alternatives. If we continue to work together we will succeed!

What is the Political Situation in the U.S. Today?

In December 1999, the White House and agricultural leadership in Congress called for changes in the commodity provisions of the farm bill for early 2000. It is now July, farmers have planted this year’s crop with no assurance of any changes in policy that will result in an improvement of prices. The droughts that farmers were facing earlier this Summer have now been replaced by too much rain in some regions. Prices remain and are projected to remain at record lows. . . .

Over $5.5 billion will be spent of taxpayer funds to avert a total collapse of the farm economy. It does nothing to really address the loss of farm income. It means a few thousand dollars to pay off bills while the politics in the U.S. Congress refuses to deal with the cause of the collapse.

While the House Agriculture Committee held two months of field hearings, the process has been controlled by the Republican leadership of the House Agriculture Committee who has hand-chosen the speakers making sure that the deck is stacked against any real calls for change or the presentation of an analysis of the true problems; a message that our farmer leaders would deliver. A new round of hearings has been scheduled for mid-July at which time we hope to present our proposal.

Much of the decrease in farm income and the misrepresentation of family farm and trade issues on Capitol Hill can be traced to the role that commodity organizations have developed on farm policy.

These so-called “farm groups” extract fees based on the level of production of each farmer ostensibly for the “promotion” of the commodity. In fact, they then use the farmer’s money to lobby for the industrialization of agriculture and other measures in the corporate interest.

We are talking about millions of dollars for each commodity group – funded by farmers but misrepresenting their interests both domestically and internationally.

Because of this, the Campaign for Family Farms is directly challenging the pork commodity group called the National Pork Producers Council. Over 19,000 farmers signed the petition calling for a vote to end the current checkoff program. USDA Secretary Glickman announced in late February that he would call for the vote. . . .

Possible Solutions

In the face of the sobering realities of corporate globalization, concentration and corporate control, the family farmers of the world are not left prostrate. We should have hope that we can achieve change. Remember we account for nearly 1/4 of the world’s population. Family farmers of the world today have the most experience, education and probably the best equipment that family farmers have ever had.

Today we have a far greater ability to communicate and certainly we are much better organized. We need to make globalization work for us through international anti-trust law, international organizing of all farmers, international food security reserves and we also need international supply management.

We need to link up our knowledge about the efforts being used by these very same companies against farmers and rural people in each of the countries. The Internet- e-mail communication regarding genetically engineered seeds has made a tremendous impact on making sure we know when there are findings, experiences in one place that help to refute the “promises” of these companies. We need to tell the stories farmer to farmer so that farmers are able to make the choices not to plant genetically engineered seed. It is our hope that the lawsuit against Monsanto that we helped put together will result in international anti-trust regulation.

We are the producers of the most important commodities necessary to sustain life. We must begin a new process of sales, distribution and trade. We must retain control of our production. No longer can we afford to deal with Multi-National corporations that supply expensive inputs and then rob us of our labor and production.

Janet Jacobsen, an organic farmer and President of the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society, recently wrote that organic production is not the solution to our increasingly globalized production system, “Consolidation of companies into vertically integrated clusters have begun to mirror the conventional markets. Organic production is not immune from the global marketplace.”

There needs to be a push for local and regional food systems that are based on who and how our food is produced. When we allow global corporations to handle our production we are opening the door to be exploited. Family farmers in each individual country should have the first right to serve their own food security needs. It makes no sense to haul food thousands of miles before it is consumed.

Family farmers of the world must expand our efforts to build relationships with labor movements and consumers groups. During the fast-track battles in the U.S. Congress around NAFTA and GATT/WTO, NFFC has worked closely with labor and citizen organizations but our work must expand to changing our current farm and food policy.

While it was encouraging at Seattle last December when the major labor movements invited family farmers to help lead the largest march, we should have been at the podium on the rally as well. Our work needs to be at the local and national level of each of our countries to show the links between farmers and workers often fighting the same threats of corporate globalization.

More than 65% of the consumers in the United States say they want their food produced by family farmers, not industrial agriculture. We have a major challenge to counter the power of the multi-nationals, the agri-business interests, the commodity groups and Farm Bureau who misrepresent the family farmer interests to develop a policy that will work for family farmers, not simply the expansion of industrialized agricultural production.

The National Family Farm Coalition member groups have put together a comprehensive farm bill proposal to replace the Fair Act, better known as Freedom to Farm, which if implemented would dramatically change the situation in the US and that in turn affect international policy.

Some of the key points of this proposal are to establish:

>> a non-recourse loan program that gives farmers an adequate loan to receive cost of production for their products

>> a farmer owned reserve with on-farm storage

>> enforce anti-trust laws,

>> stop mergers and acquisitions by agribusiness corporations.

We must be able to have more control over our production of grain and livestock. For decades livestock has supplied the vehicle for value adding at the farm level.

AMTA and loan deficiency payments from our government only enable corporate concentration to increase. . . .

— From In Motion Magazine – (

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December 24, 2001


Cheap goods exact heavy toll on workers

by Elaine Kurtenbach, Associated Press

LONGGANG, CHINA – There’s been little sense of celebration this holiday season at lawyer Zhou Litai’s crowded house. He’s too busy looking after workers who lost hands, legs, or feet in factory accidents while churning out Christmas gifts for the world.

Some of Zhou’s clients come to him straight from the hospital. Others, on crutches or with bandaged stumps, trek from around China to his home in southern China, hoping he will take up their fight for compensation for work-related accidents.

The gifts labeled “Made in China” that millions will receive this season may well come from factories in Longgang and other grimy industrial suburbs of Shenzhen, a boomtown in Guangdong province bordering Hong Kong.

“Christmas gifts? You see what tears, what sweat are spent by the workers making these products?” said Zhou, a self-educated lawyer and former migrant worker himself.

A third of China’s exports come from factories in Guangdong that produce decorations, toys, electronics, shoes, clothing and small items likely to find their way into Christmas stockings.

Chinese goods are cheap mainly because they are made by workers paid less than $1 an hour who toil long hours, often in poor conditions.

Overworked, untrained workers lose limbs in unsafe machines. Teen-age girls gluing soles onto shoes in unventilated workshops are poisoned by fumes. Workers locked into dormitories and factories are killed in fires.

Mine explosions, factory fires and other work-related accidents killed 47,000 people in the first six months of this year, state media say….

Despite a 1995 labor law mandating a 40-hour work week, employees at many Chinese factories toil 12 hours or more a day, almost every day. Safety measures are minimal and physical punishment routine, says Anita Chan, an expert on Chinese labor at Australian National University.

Chan, who recently published a book titled China’s Workers Under Assault, said her research found a sharp rise in accidents when work hours exceed 60 a week. . . .

Some factories are huge, having up to 15,000 workers who live, work, eat and sleep there, going home just once a year.

Rapid-fire, Zhou outlines what he thinks are the main reasons for the tragedies he encounters each day: shoddy equipment, poor training, overtime work – and collusion among factory owners, managers and local officials who fail to enforce safety standards in their zeal to encourage job-creating investment.

“I get calls and threats everyday. They accuse me of ruining the investment environment,” Zhou said. . . .

Workers say a lack of union support is another hurdle.

Though the ruling Communist Party claims to champion the working class, China outlaws independent labor unions.

The government promises a new law to stem work-related accidents and diseases.

In a first for China, last month a court awarded compensation to 192 farmers in eastern China’s Zhejiang province who developed lung disease while employed as tunnel diggers.

In other advances, workers at some factories have sued and won compensation for unpaid wages. Multinational corporations like Reebok and Nike, under pressure at home to uphold higher labor standards, have backed efforts to promote workplace democracy and assess workers’ needs.

Zhou and his clients say they expect China’s entry into the World Trade Organization to help, even though the Geneva-based WTO does not police labor standards.

Developing countries such as China have resisted efforts to have labor rights included in WTO provisions.

“We don’t understand such things as the WTO, but it must be something good for us,” said Bai Jiangning, 36, an army veteran who lost a leg from the hip down in a work-related traffic accident at a kitchen utensil factory.

“As it is now, we have absolutely nothing,” he said.

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January 15, 2002

Bush Urges Expanding Trade

By Sonya Ross, Associated Press

AURORA, Mo. – President Bush stumped across the Midwest yesterday with a pitch for increased trade and help for American farmers, weaving in Sept. 11 patriotism and insisting anew that any repeal or delay of his tax cut “would be a disaster for the American economy.”

The president began a two-day trip through three states along the Mississippi River, a journey designed to illustrate how agriculture, manufacturing and exports help the economy. He made the trip with a red scrape on his left cheek, an injury he received Sunday when he fainted after gulping a pretzel as he watched football on TV. . . .

He visited a John Deere factory in Moline, Ill., and a feed mill in Aurora, Mo., to argue for expanded trade as a means of halting recession. Then he was heading to Louisiana for a visit today to the port of New Orleans, the last stop for many agricultural goods destined for overseas markets.

In Springfield, Mo., Bush told a crowd at an airport hanger that the United States is clearly able to grow more than enough food to feed its own people, and therefore its farmers should be given a chance to put their products into more markets worldwide.

“Let us compete and when we can compete in a fair way, we whip anybody when it comes to selling food,” he said.

Later in Aurora, Bush called on Congress to approve a farm bill that encourages greater trading in U.S. agricultural products along five basic principles: That the government can afford it; that it does not lead to overproduction that can deflate prices; that it includes incentives for good conservation practices; supports “our strong commitment to trade”; and established farm savings accounts. . . .

Bush also put in a pitch for authority to negotiate “fast-track” trade agreements, which Congress could reject but not change. . . .

After watching a load of Blue Ribbon Sweet Feed dropped from a towering storage facility into a holding container, Bush acknowledged that some farmers, skeptical of unfilled promises by presidents, may grouse, “Here comes old Bush from Texas, and he says he’s for the farmer” when it comes to trade agreements, but assured he would be different.

“That’s not the way it’s going to be, folks, because I understand how important agriculture is,” Bush said.

* * *

From If the God’s Had Meant Us to VoteThey Would Have Given Us Candidates by Jim Hightower:


Canadians have something we need, and I don’t mean hockey players.

“Blue Gold,” it’s been dubbed by a Canadian newspaper, but it’s far more valuable than that implies, since the world can actually do without gold.

Water. That’s what Canada has that parts of our country and much of the world might literally kill for.

Hell, you say, water’s everywhere. 70 percent of the earth is covered in the stuff.

Yes, but as Canada’s Maude Barlow points out to anyone who’ll listen, less than one-half of 1 percent of all the water on the globe is fresh water available to drink.

An author and agitator for common sense, Ms. Barlow heads the Council of Canadians and is founding chair for progressive politics and policies. “Worldwide, the consumption of water is doubling every 20 years,” she writes in a stunning report entitled “Blue Gold: The Global Water Crisis.”

Barlow calculates that in a very short while, MOST of the world’s people will face shortages or absolute scarcity. . . .

Canada, on the other hand, has a blessing of agua fresca. . . .

Some 20% of the world’s entire supply of fresh water is in the winding rivers and countless lakes splashed all across the vast land . . .

This is not a reality that has dawned on Canadians alone. Others are casting their eyes northward, thinking, “There’s gold in them thar hills.”

But it’s not countries making invasion plans — it’s corporations.

To get their hands on the gold, the corporate grubbers first have to change the way the world’s supply of drinking water is managed. Instead of letting countries treat it as a resource to be held in common and allocated by the public for the general good, they want it to be considered as just another commodity to be held and traded by private investors strictly for their own profit.

Like oil or pork bellies . . . only this is your drinking water they want to privatize and commodify.

Will it surprise you to learn that those bratty globalization twins, NAFTA and the WTO, contain provisions that advance the commodity concept? Thought not. Both incorporate the bald assertion that “water, including … ordinary natural water of all kinds (other than sea water)” are “goods” that are subject to the new rules of global trade.

We’re talking here about much more than bottled water– Perrier, Evian, Yellow Snow #5, and your other favorite boutique brands. We’re talking about bulk sales, including whole lakes and aquifers being bought and mined, the flow of rivers being siphoned off, the Great Lakes themselves being put on the market.

Maude Barlow and others report that corporations worldwide are already organized to do the deed, using super-tankers, pipelines, canals, the rerouting of rivers, and every other mammoth scheme known to humankind to shift the product from water-rich nations to those markets willing to pay top dollar for it:

>> Nordic Water Company now totes H2-0 from Norway to thirsty European countries by tugging it across the sea in giant, floating plastic bags.

>> Global Water Corp, a Canadian firm, has cut a deal with the town of Sitka, Alaska, to take 18 billion gallons of water per year from nearby Blue Lake and haul it to China, and it is joining with a Houston maritime outfit to ship more Alaskan water aboard bulk tankers to Singapore. “Water has moved from being an endless commodity that may be taken for granted to a rationed necessity that may be taken by force,” GWC says in a chilling statement.

>> The GRAND Canal (Great Recycling And Northern Development Canal) is an engineer’s wet dream, involving the building of a dike across the huge James Bay … to capture the water of the twenty rivers that flow into it … then building a network of canals, dams, and locks to move the water four hundred miles south to Georgian Bay, where it would be “flushed through” the Great Lakes into pipelines that would take it to America’s Sunbelt.

>> McCurdy Enterprises of Gander, Newfoundland, plans to “harvest” some 13 billion gallons of water a year from one of that province’s lakes, pipe it to the coast, pump it into old oil tankers … and ship it to the Middle East for a hefty profit.

>> Monsanto sees a multibillion-dollar business opportunity in the emerging water crisis, with one executive saying bluntly: “Since water is as central to food productions as seed is, and without water life is not possible, Monsanto is now trying to establish its control over water. … Monsanto (has launched) a new water business, starting with India and Mexico, since both these countries are facing water shortages.”

“Canada,” barked editor Terrence Corcoran of the Financial Post in a 1999 editorial, “is a future OPEC of water,” urging that the country begin trading in this rich commodity pronto.

Likewise, Dennis Mills, a member of Canada’s parliament … is pushing for assorted water projects and trading schemes, declaring with gusto, “Fortunes are made by those who control the flow of water.”

Thanks to citizen groups like the two Maude Barlow heads, however, the Great Canadian Water Sale-a-Thon has yet to surge forth, for they have alerted the citizenry and generated a national debate on the wisdom of shouting “y’all come” to every global greedhead with a big bucket. Their vigilance has produced a temporary moratorium across the country on bulk sales.

This might be a good place for me to add that Maud, and Canadians generally, certainly are not saying, “It’s our water and the rest of the world can go suck eggs” … To the contrary, they are the ones pushing for a public policy of sharing their bounty to meet the global water crisis, allocating water particularly to help those people in need. But the pressure is intense to simply turn the water loose and let “the market” decide who needs it. And that little, nasty Chapter 11 is being wielded to break the dam and turn the water loose.

Sun Belt Water Inc., based in Santa Monica, California, has filed the first NAFTA water case. It had an agreement with a British Columbia company to take water from this far western province and ship it in huge tankers down the west coast to southern California. But such a public outcry ensued when the scheme became public that the provincial government stepped in to protect its water, nixing the shipment by enacting a moratorium on all water exports. Imagine if Sun Belt had quietly worked a deal to sink a siphon into Lake Tahoe and drain it into Los Angeles, and you’ll get a sense of how the people of British Columbia felt about Sun Belt’s raid.

“Screw the people” was the reaction of the California corporation. It sued Canada in 1998, claiming that its future profits were “expropriated” by British Columbia’s export moratorium and that, under the infamous Chapter 11, the nice people of Canada owed it $468 million. . . .

Dealing with NAFTA is trickier than playing hockey in hell, and, for the Canadians, there is another nasty trick in the trade agreement that makes them vulnerable to an all-out corporate raid. Sun Belt and the other water hustlers only need one export deal in any one province to break the dam for all of Canada’s water.

This is because the devils who set up the NAFTA game rigged it with a provision called “proportionality,” which means that if one company gets a deal, the country has to treat every other company the same. So when one company exports even a trickle of water out of Canada, that opens the tap for all other export deals, and the tap cannot be turned off– even if it is later proven that the massive outflow is doing horrible damage to the environment, to other businesses (fishing, tourism, etc.) or to the country as a whole. . . .

This is why Sun Belt Water Inc. is squeezing so hard in British Columbia. Canada’s national government, rather than imposing its own ban on water exports, took the kind of half-assed approach our national politicians would take– they asked each of the ten provinces of Canada to implement their own voluntary moratoriums. . . .

If (or when) one province allows a export deal, all the other provincial moratoriums are immediately null and void — and the “Blue Gold Rush” is on. . . .

* * *

From :

“Sam Anderson” <>

To :

CC :

Subject :

[soa] Help Stop the Privatizing “The Stuff of Life:” Ghana’s Water Commodified By Imperialism

Date :

Thu, 21 Mar 2002 06:32:58 -0800



” Sometimes I will go without food so my grandchildren have water,” says Amadu.

“Water comes before food.”

Dear Friends,

At the instigation of the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank, the Government of Ghana has embarked on a hasty privatisation programme of the country’s public urban water system without proper public consultation. Already, the prospect of privatisation has resulted in a 95 percent hike in water fees and it is feared that the takeover by the exclusively foreign multinational bidders will severely reduce access for the poor and marginalized communities.

Privatisation will hit poor families hard, says Christian Aid’s report (see below), a view supported by a diverse array of international non-governmental organizations, including Public Citizen (US), the International Water Working Group, Africa Action (USA), and Water Aid (UK).

The IMF, World Bank and DFID disagree. They insist that every citizen should pay the full ‘market price’ for water but 70% of Ghanaians earns less than a dollar a day and cannot afford it. Moreover, over 30% do not even have access to safe drinking water. With privatisation, it is feared that this percentage will increase. More poor families will be forced to travel farther and work harder to collect water possibly from polluted streams and rivers. And they will be forced to make daily trade-offs between water, food, schooling and health care. Worse still their children will fall sick and die from the many illnesses caused by drinking unsafe water.

Poor people are resisting. The National Coalition Against the Privatisation of Water, popularly called CAP of WATER has been formed by a broad range of civil society groups and organizations to stop the arm twisting by the IMF, the World Bank and DFID and the multinational water companies. The CAP of WATER campaign is demanding;

a) proper consultation with civil society, and

b) a serious examination of the reform options. CAP of WATER has called for an international fact finding mission, which is due to visit Ghana next month.

~ ~ ~

Please join the campaign by:

1. Sending this message to friends.

2. Please copy us at: <>. Every message is great news to the campaign.

3. Observing the UN day for Water (Friday 22 March) with a local CAP of Water event of your own.

4. URGENTLY sending a fax or e-mail to the following people, urging them to stop the hasty privatisation of Ghana’s water in order to prevent more people falling into deeper poverty and disease. Please copy your message to us at: <His Excellency Mr. J.A. Kufuor, President of Ghana
Tel: 233-21-676923/4 ext. 110
Fax: 233-21-676934 or 233-21-666528

Peter Harold, World Bank Representative,
Ghana P. O. Box M27 – Ministries
Accra, Ghana
Tel: 233-724/22037
Fax: 233-72-227887

~ ~ ~

‘The right to water is a fundamental, God-given right to all people that dwell on this earth.’

– Christian Council of Ghana.

~ ~ ~

SUPPORT the CAP of WATER campaign

Southern Links
Email :

* * *

Is the Trade Issue Still Up for Grabs?

by Patrick J. Buchanan

February 21, 1994

~ ~ ~

With the appearance of the WTO, all the embryonic entities in the visions of the Strobe Talbotts and Boutros-Ghalis — are visible.

The United Nations is to be the world parliament, the International Monetary Fund to regulate the world’s money, the World Bank to redistribute its wealth, the WTO to manage its trade.

All in the interests of mankind — as understood by the transnational elites who will run the institutions that will RULE THE WORLD.

~ ~ ~

More than a week has elapsed since President Clinton demanded, and Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa refused, numerical targets for Japanese imports from the United States.

“You are asking for ‘managed trade’,” huffed Mr. Hosokawa, whose nation has been managing its trade for decades.

After that confrontation, and Mr. Clinton’s warnings that the United States is prepared for a trade war, Japan’s stock market lost nearly 6 percent of its value — and the yen soared. Crippling Japan’s export prospects and hopes of recovery. U.S. markets took the news in stride.

Mr. Clinton is in the catbird seat.

While no one wins a trade war, Japan has more to lose than we. They have the $60 billion annual trade surplus; they need our markets more than we need theirs.

While Mr. Hosokawa was welcomed home with cheers for being the first prime minister since Tojo to say “no” to America, Mr. Clinton has suffered no political damage from his emergence as an economic nationalist.

Indeed, the most surprising aspect of this crisis is the dog that didn’t bark. Where are the free traders?

A week after he rejected Tokyo’s promise to increase imports as too vague, allowing his first Japan summit to collapse in failure, Mr. Clinton’s country is behind him and his critics are mute. . . .

In a brilliant essay in the Mises Institute’s Free Market Letter, Lew Rockwell traces WTO’s lineage, in all its varied reincarnations, all the way back to America’s first globalist president: “Woodrow Wilson’s 1918 plan for a World Trade Tribunal was a part of his League of Nations Covenant. Thanks to Henry Cabot Lodge…and his allies, neither the League nor its Trade Tribunal were approved by the U.S. Senate, in one of the most courageous acts in history.”

History can repeat itself if the GOP can produce a courageous Cabot Lodge on Capitol Hill to lead the battle to kill the WTO — and make the GOP again the party of a healthy nationalism that is America’s last best hope against the long dark night of the New World Order.

To borrow from Nancy Reagan, “Just say No — to the WTO!”

* * *

From The WTO by Lori Wallach and Michelle Sforza:

From the Introduction by Ralph Nader: . . . In approving the far-reaching, powerful World Trade Organization and other international trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. government, like those of other nations, has ceded much of its flexibility to independently advance health and safety standards that protect citizens. Instead, the U.S. has accepted harsh legal limitations on what domestic policies it may pursue.

Approval of these agreements has institutionalized a global economic and political structure that makes every government increasingly hostage to an unaccountable system of transnational governance designed to increase corporate profit, often with complete disregard for social and ecological consequences.

This new governing regime will increasingly provide major generic control over the minute details of the lives of the majority of the world’s people. It is not based on the health and economic well-being of people, but rather on the enhancement of the power and wealth of the world’s largest corporations and financial institutions.

Under this new system, many decisions affecting people’s daily lives are being shifted away from our local and national governments and being placed increasingly in the hands of unelected trade bureaucrats sitting behind closed doors in Geneva, Switzerland.

These bureaucrats, for example, are now empowered to dictate whether people in California can pursue certain actions to prevent the destruction of their last virgin forests or determine if carcinogenic pesticides can be banned from their food, or whether the European countries have the right to ban the use of risky biotech materials in their food.

Moreover, once the WTO’s secret tribunals issue their edicts, no independent appeals are possible. Worldwide conformity or continued payments of fines are required.

Multinational companies have shaped the globalization of commerce and finance. The establishment of the WTO marks a landmark formalization and strengthening of their power. . . .

Globalization’s tactic is to eliminate democratic decision-making and accountability over matters as intimate as the safety of food, pharmaceuticals and motor vehicles, or the way in which a country may use or conserve its land, water, minerals and other resources.

What we have now in this type of globalization is a slow motion coup d’etat, a low intensity war waged to redefine free society . . . as subordinate to the dictates of international trade– i.e. big business uber alles. . . .

Many corporate officials share a common, perverse outlook. To them, the globe is viewed primarily as a common market and capital source. Governments, laws and democracy are inconvenient factors that restrict their exploitations and limit their profit. . . .

How can citizens most effectively mobilize a reversal of the expanding globalization agenda while they defend our democratic spaces, instincts and institutions from assault? The degree of suppression and subterfuge necessary to continue along the downward path will be hard to maintain in the presences of any vigorous democratic oversight.

However, actually reversing NAFTA, the WTO and the push toward globalization will require a revitalized citizen democracy in the United States and movement building across national borders. Replacing the WTO-GATT with a pull-up, not pull-down, system of global commerce is the goal. . . .

~ ~ ~

UNLIKE PAST TRADE PACTS, the WTO and its underlying agreements move far beyond traditional commercial matters such as tariffs, import quotas or requirement that foreign and domestic goods be treated equally. The WTO’s provisions set limits on the strength of countries’ food safety laws and the comprehensiveness of product labeling policies.

They forbid countries from banning products made with child labor.

They can even regulate expenditure of local tax dollars (for instance, prohibiting environmental or human rights considerations in government purchasing decisions).

The WTO, established on Jan 1, 1995, as part of the Uruguay Round Agreements of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and now with 134 Member countries, has rapidly accumulated a sordid record. Binding decisions from its enforcement tribunals have undermined consumer and environmental protections around the world. And corporations have used the threat of WTO action to roll back, block or chill countless rules designed to benefit workers, consumers and the environment, and to promote human rights and development in the world’s poor countries. . . .

[Proponents of the WTO] promised that the Uruguay Round and the WTO would pose no threat to domestic sovereignty or democratic, accountable policymaking. They promised enormous economic gains worldwide . . . The U.S. trade deficit would decrease by $60 billion in ten years. Latin America would keep pace. Then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen even predicted that passage … would result in an additional $1,700 in annual median income per U.S. family.

Now, nearly five years later, it is clear that the promised economic gains have not materialized. Not only has the WTO failed to live up to its proponents’ promises, but it is wreaking continuing damage to health, human rights, safety and environmental safeguards. . . .

Promised Economic Gains Fail to Materialize.

The long-term social and ecological consequences of the Uruguay Round cannot be known until its terms have been fully implemented. But the economic trends that have emerged so far indicate serious problems. . . .

What we do know today is that since the WTO was created, the world has been buffeted by unprecedented financial instability. Economic growth in the developing world has slowed. Income inequality is rising rapidly between and within countries. Despite productivity gains, wages in many counties have failed to rise. Commodity prices are at all-time lows, causing the standard of living for many people to slide, particularly in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Global economic indicators generally paint a tragic picture: The income gap between the fifth of the world’s people living in the richest countries and the fifth in the poorest was 74-to-1 in 1997, up from 60-to-1 in 1990 and 30-to-1 in 1960. By 1997, the richest 20% captured 86% of world income, with the poorest 20% capturing a mere 1%.

In the U.S., the trade deficit is at an all-time high, $218 billion and climbing, having ballooned–not declined as promised– from $98 billion in 1994. The median family income has not risen by $1,700 per year during any of the past four years as the Clinton administration promised.

While the economic numbers paint a telling picture, they are but one part of the story. Of equal importance, but less well known, is the WTO’s consistent record of eroding public interest policies designed to safeguard the environment, our communities’ health and safety, human rights and democracy . . .

WTO Challenges and Threats Undermine the Public Interest.

The expansive Uruguay Round Agreements’ constraints … are enforced through a freestanding WTO tribunal system empowered to judge countries’ laws for WTO-compliance.

Since it was created in 1995, one out of four WTO challenges has involved an environmental, health or safety policy. In each instance the WTO has ruled such policies to be an illegal trade barrier that must be eliminated or changed. . . .

The very mechanics of the WTO, which are skewed in favor of corporations and trade, pre-ordain this outcome. WTO business is conducted by committees and panels that meet behind closed doors in Geneva, Switzerland. . . .

This leads to overwhelming concentrations of corporate power and influence.

The string of public interest laws ruled against in developing countries are among the biggest losers in this system. Developing countries generally do not have the money and expertise either to bring cases to the WTO or defend themselves before the WTO. Many simply capitulate to corporate threats and amend their laws before the matter even reaches the WTO. . . .

Another alarming aspect of this new WTO system is the fact that nations are serving as corporations’ servants, agreeing to challenge laws that the corporations oppose. The U.S. went to bat for Chiquita, the banana giant, when its successfully attacked Europe’s preferential treatment of bananas from former EU colonies in the Caribbean. The U.S. does not produce bananas for export and most of Chiquita’s employees are underpaid farm workers laboring on its vast Central American plantations. The EU has announced that it has no choice but to rescind its preferential treatment, an action that could have a devastating impact on the small, independent banana farmers in the Caribbean.

Often, the mere threat of a challenge suffices. For instance, after the U.S. threatened WTO action, South Korea weakened two food safety laws– one pertaining to the shelf life for meat, the other dealing with fruit and vegetable inspections. . . .

WTO Trend: Commerce Always Takes Precedence.

The overall theme that emerges from reviewing the WTO’s record: In the WTO forum, global commerce takes precedence over everything democracy, public health, equity, the environment, food safety and more.

Indeed, under WTO rules, global commerce takes precedence over even small business.

The WTO’s manic tilt toward commercial values is perhaps best highlighted by its rules seeking to commodify everything– to turn everything into a form of property — so that it can be bought and sold.

For instance, the new system gives patents— and thus exclusive marketing rights– for life forms and indigenous knowledge.

Consider what has happened in India, where the indigenous population has used the neem tree for medicinal purposes for generations. After a U.S. importer discovered the tree’s pharmaceutical properties, multinational companies from the U.S. and Japan sought and received numerous patents on products made for the tree, leaving the indigenous populations unable to profit from knowledge they have developed over centuries.

Consider, too, the plight of subsistence farmers. Under the WTO’s new intellectual property guarantees, a company can obtain ownership rights – literally a patent– over the knowledge and effort of the local farmers who bred an adapted seed over generations.

Once a company holds the patent for a particular seed variety, it can force farmers either to pay an annual royalty, buy new seed each year or no longer use the variety, which may be the only one available or effective in that region….

* * *

Sept 21, 2001


Associated Press, by Joe McDonald

The U.S. Senate’s 85-13 vote Tuesday for permanent normal trade ties ended the contentious annual reviews of China’s trade status that buffeted relations for the past decade.

Chinese officials want the impending loss of trade barriers to prod farmers, factories and other companies to modernize. That serves their reform agenda, but in the short run, membership in the global free-trade body will lead to job losses and wrenching changes.

Although China’s WTO entry has been 14 years in the making, it isn’t clear whether Chinese firms, from farming to insurance, are ready to shed state protection and face richer, more sophisticated rivals from abroad. . . .

“In the long term, it’s beneficial for both sides,” said Patrick Powers, director of China operations for the U.S.-China Business Council, which represents 300 American companies.

But in those first years, Chinese companies will face intense pressure to match the efficiency and technology of foreign rivals. [yuk, yuk] Chinese officials are pushing for mergers in securities and other industries to create competitors big and rich enough to survive. [Enter Enron, Goldman Sachs, General Electric, Putnam, Westinghouse, etc., etc.]

Beijing has promised to cut tariffs on imported goods from 24.6% in 1997 to an average of 9.4% by 2005. Foreign companies are to be allowed for the first time into telecommunications, banking and other fields. [Enter AT&T, Barkleys, CBS, Citibank, American Express, etc. etc.]

Imported grain could undercut inefficient farms that employ hundreds of millions of Chinese. [Enter Archer-Daniels-Midland, United Fruit Company, etc. etc.]

Insurance and securities firms will face foreign rivals with global experience. [Enter American International Group, AXA Financial, Chubb Group, Citigroup, Marsh & McLennan, Prudential, Zurich, etc. etc.]

“The swift and strong market attack brought by WTO entry will easily drive some small companies into mergers with foreign competitors or into bankruptcy,” said Liu Wei, an official of Dalian Huanong Oil and Fat Co., a major food processor.

* * *

DISSIDENT CRITICIZES VOTE . . . (Beijing – AP) One of China’s best known dissidents on Wednesday harshly criticized the U.S. vote to normalize trade with China, saying it will embolden China’s leaders to step up repression.

The Senate’s approval of permanent low-tariff trade ties with China rewards the communist government’s determination to stifle free speech and political opening, said Wei Jingsheng, speaking from … New York, where he lives in exile. . . .

“This tells the common people of China that the world doesn’t care about their rights or livelihoods, but only about their own wallets,” said Wei, imprisoned for 18 years in China for urging more democracy and respect for human rights.

Disgruntled Chinese workers and farmers taxed into desperate poverty may now take up more extreme measures to seek redress, he said, referring to recent instances of large-scale violence against corrupt authorities by angry farmers.

* * *

From American City Business Journals, March 27, 2001:

Chinese corruption probe targets Sinopec executive

DALLAS — Six months after China-based oil company Sinopec made a $3.5 billion offering to foreign investors, a top executive has been suspended and is under investigation on corruption allegations related to “economic problems,” The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

Among the key investors in the company, also known as China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., is Irving-based ExxonMobil Corp., BP Amoco P.L.C. and Royal Dutch Shell Group.

The Journal said their combined investment in the IPO of the Chinese oil venture exceeded $1.8 billion.

The Journal quoted a spokesman with Sinopec as saying 59-year-old Han Qingzhi, the general manager of wholly owned subsidiary Sinopec Sales Co., was relieved of his duties more than a week ago.

The company official did not elaborate on the focus of the investigation, which reportedly has drawn the attention of Chinese government graft inspectors.

The top official of Hubei Xinghua Co., another Sinopec subsidiary, was given a suspended death sentence last year for embezzling $600,000 from the oil company, The Journal reported.

* * *

From Insurance Journal, by Charles E. Boyle:


The Emperors of the Chou Dynasty, who began the construction of the Great Wall of China in the 4th century B.C., intended it to keep out the barbarian hordes that periodically invaded the Middle Kingdom. After 1,800 years, the Wall extended over 1,500 miles but was never entirely successful. Walls, however, have two sides, and the barrier affected the development of Chinese civilization by both physically and mentally restricting access to other cultures beyond the wall.

China’s real GDP has grown more than 5 percent every year since 1979. It topped $1 trillion in 1999, and is on track to grow another 8 percent this year.

Most of that growth has been export-driven. At the end of the third quarter, China’s exports had risen more than 32 percent for the year to $205 billion, and its overall trade surplus is expected to top $25 billion.

China has gained a place in world trade, and its leaders have for the last 10 years sought entry into the World Trade Organization. Membership would insulate China’s exports from protective trade barriers, open new markets for expansion and facilitate the importation of needed technology.

The WTO, however, is based on free trade principles, and, as a member, China will be required to open its economy to competition and to abide by WTO rules. Can its leaders force through the necessary reforms, and see them observed, given China’s bloated, inefficient, state-run economy and the corruption of many officials? The answers should begin to emerge, as it appears almost certain that China will join the WTO in 2001.

Two major barriers fell this year. The U.S. concluded and ratified a treaty providing for “Permanent Normal Trade Relations”, a milestone in U.S./China relations. It did more than eliminate the annual debate over China’s “most favored nation” status. The European Community then negotiated its own bilateral trade agreement with China. Both pacts provide essentially the same benefits and obligations, but the EU gained some additional concessions, notably the acceptance of agents and brokers as part of the insurance accords.

These agreements were essential before WTO membership could be approved, and most of their provisions are contingent upon China’s joining. They cover the rights of western companies to enter previously protected markets, mainly telecommunications, agriculture and financial services.

European and U.S. insurance companies enthusiastically supported the trade agreements. AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg said, “The best way to promote positive change in China is to trade with China.”

Both PNTR and the EU deal provide for more licenses to foreign insurers, and a loosening of the stringent restrictions on where they can operate. Other than Hong Kong, foreign insurers are mostly confined to the Shanghai and Guangzhou regions. Eventually they hope to gain increased market share, and the opportunity to offer their products to 1.3 billion Chinese consumers.

So far, however, China hasn’t been exactly generous in granting new licenses. AIG and Aetna already had them; Chubb and John Hancock were accepted in April. European insurers AXA, Allianz, Royal & Sun, CGNU and Winterthur were also approved before the accords were signed. Afterwards, only Generali and ING Group have received licenses, although Gerling, Skandia and Transamerica/ Aegon have applications pending.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta recently complained that no U.S. insurers have so far received new permits. It appeared the Chinese were going ahead with their pledge to grant seven new licenses to the Europeans, Mineta indicated, but were holding back on their promise for an equal number to U.S. insurers. They may even be planning to cut the number to just four, he added. New York Life, Met Life, Cigna and others are still waiting.

Licenses alone won’t guarantee entry into the Chinese market. Two major obstacles exist. In the euphoria over signing the PNTR agreement, people conveniently overlooked the fact that China isn’t a country where legality and contract law are highly valued.

Greg Mastell, vice president of the Economic Strategy Institute, summed it up in his testimony before the Senate Finance Committee in March 1999: “The central problem is that China has neither a rules-based country, nor a true market economy.

The former head of the Chinese people’s Congress is fond of saying ”China is a country of strong leaders, not strong laws.’ This lack of rule of law has a direct impact on U.S. concerns ranging from human rights to trade.” Trying to get Chinese bureaucrats to adopt regulations is already seen as a problem.

Secondly, China’s culture goes back over 2,200 years and functions in ways that are uniquely Chinese. Dr. Herbert Gooch, chairman of the political science department at California Lutheran University, observed that: “While there is a tradition of family and clan (tong) pooling of venture capital, traditional capitalist insurance concepts of impersonal, much less individual, sharing of risk may be hard to translate and sell well in the Chinese culture.”

* * *

China Enters World Trade Organization

By Naomi Koppel/AP

China reached an agreement on Sept. 14, 2001 (3 days after the World Trade Center terrorist attack) on the terms of its membership in the World Trade Organization, setting the stage for it to become a full member early next year. Wrapping up 15 years of tough negotiations, a compromise was reached over the remaining obstacle — a dispute over insurance companies.

The agreement opens the way for China to be formally approved at the WTO’s meeting of trade ministers scheduled to be held in Doha, Qatar, in November.

If the accord passes through China’s own legislature, the world’s most populous nation could become a full WTO member early 2002.

Membership will open China’s economy to imports and lead to an upsurge in Chinese exports to the rest of the world. China will also be required to adhere to global trading rules.

“The decision to bring China into the WTO will commit China to adhering to the rules-based global trading system,” said Jeffrey Bader, chief U.S. negotiator.

“It will open markets and contribute greatly” to encouraging reform in China.

China applied to join the WTO and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, 15 years ago. The application process was caught up in political problems over Beijing’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement and economic fears that China would use its vast labor market to undercut competing products.

The agreement must be rubber-stamped by negotiators at another meeting before it can be sent to trade ministers in Doha.

One of the final stumbling blocks was removed Sept. 13 when Mexico and China reached a bilateral accord. Mexico was the last WTO member to hold out against Beijing.

That left just one remaining hurdle —- a complicated insurance dispute with the United States and the 15-nation European Union —- which accounted for just one paragraph in a treaty of more than 1,000 pages.

U.S. insurer American International Group (AIG), which has operated in China since 1994, wants guarantees that it can continue to expand without having to find Chinese partners.

The draft WTO text states that new companies joining the life insurance market must be 50 percent Chinese owned.

European companies, which operate as joint ventures with Chinese partners, insist that AIG must play by the same rules as they do.

The share of North American imports coming from China rose from 0.8 percent in 1983 to 7.3 percent by 1999, and in European stores “Made in China” labels are widespread.

Chinese sales abroad are expected to soar further once Beijing joins the WTO and thus gains easier access to other markets.

China has already started reducing some import tariffs —- for example on automobiles, whetting foreign appetites at potentially enormous sales.

As a sign of its supreme confidence, China has built a new mission to the WTO, a high-tech building on the lake shore with stunning views of the Alps —- a far cry from the modest U.S. and EU trade missions.

But amid the celebrations, China’s chief negotiator Long Yongtu injected a note of caution.

“It is only the end of the beginning,” he said. “It is a long process for China to implement and to enforce and to be a good member of the WTO.”

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From Public Citizen – :


In November 1999, the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Third Ministerial Meeting in Seattle collapsed in spectacular fashion, in the face of unprecedented protest from people and governments around the world. We believe it is essential to use this moment as an opportunity to change course and develop an alternative, humane, democratically accountable and sustainable system of commerce that benefits all.

This process entails rolling back the power and authority of the WTO.

The GATT Uruguay Round Agreements and the establishment of the WTO were proclaimed as a means of enhancing the creation of global wealth and prosperity and promoting the well-being of all people in all member states.

In reality, however, the WTO has contributed to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich few; increasing poverty for the majority of the world’s peoples, especially in third world countries; and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.

The WTO and GATT Uruguay Round Agreements have functioned principally to pry open markets for the benefit of transnational corporations at the expense of national and local economies; workers, farmers, indigenous peoples, women and other social groups; health and safety; the environment; and animal welfare.

In addition, the WTO system, rules and procedures are undemocratic, un-transparent and non-accountable and have operated to marginalize the majority of the world’s people.

All this has taken place in the context of increasing global instability, the collapse of national economies, growing inequity both between and within nations and increasing environmental and social degradation, as a result of the acceleration of the process of corporate globalization.

The governments which dominate the WTO, especially the United States, the European Union, Japan and Canada, and the transnational corporations which have benefitted from the WTO system have refused to recognize and address these problems. They are still intent on further liberalization, including through the expansion of the WTO, promoting free trade as a goal in itself.

In reality, however, free trade is anything but ‘free’.

The time has come to acknowledge the crises of the international trading system and its main administering institution, the WTO. We need to replace this old, unfair and oppressive trade system with a new, socially just and sustainable trading framework for the 21st Century.

We need to protect cultural, biological, economic and social diversity; introduce progressive policies to prioritise local economies and trade; secure internationally recognized economic, cultural, social and labor rights; and reclaim the sovereignty of peoples and national and sub-national democratic decision-making processes.

In order to do this, we need new rules based on the principles of democratic control of resources, ecological sustainability, equity, cooperation and precaution.

~ ~ ~

In light of the above, we make the following demands of our governments:

No WTO Expansion

We reiterate our opposition to continued attempts to launch a new round or expand the WTO by bringing in new issues such as investment, competition, government procurement, biotechnology and accelerated tariff liberalization.

WTO Hands Off: Protect Basic Social Rights and Needs

It is inappropriate and unacceptable for social rights and basic needs to be constrained by WTO rules. Thus WTO Agreements must not apply to issues critical to human or planetary welfare, such as food and water, basic social services, health and safety, and animal protection. Inappropriate encroachment by trade rules in such areas has already resulted in campaigns on genetically modified organisms, old growth forests, domestically prohibited goods and predatory tobacco marketing.

Gut GATS: Protect Basic Social Services

In particular, areas such as health, education, energy and other basic human services must not be subject to international free trade rules. In the WTO General Agreement on Services (GATS), the principle of “progressive liberalization” and the implications of foreign investment in service sectors has already led to severe problems.

Take TRIPS Out: Restore National Patent Protection Systems

We demand the removal of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) from the WTO. There is no basis for inclusion of intellectual property claims in a trade agreement. Additionally, the TRIPS agreement promotes monopoly by transnational corporations; prevents access to essential medicines and other goods; leads to private appropriation of knowledge and life forms; undermines biodiversity; and keeps poorer countries from increasing their levels of social and economic welfare and developing their technological capacity.

No Patents on Life

The patenting of life forms must be prohibited in all national and international regimes.

Food is a Basic Human Right

Measures taken to promote and protect food security and sovereignty, subsistence farming, humane farming practices and sustainable agriculture must be exempt from international free trade rules. There must be a prohibition on export subsidies and other forms of dumping of agricultural products, especially on third world countries. The trading system must not undermine the livelihood of peasants, small farmers, artesinal fishers and indigenous peoples.

No Investment Liberalization

The WTO Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) Agreement must be eliminated. All countries and especially third world countries must have the right to use policy options (such as local content policy) to increase the capacity of their own productive sectors, especially small and medium enterprises. Obviously, the TRIMS review must not be used to extend the investment issue in WTO.

Fair Trade: Special and Differential Treatment

Special and differential rights for third world countries must be recognized, expanded, and operationalized in the world trading system. This is to take into account the weak position of third world countries in the international trading system. Without the enforcement of special and differential rights, there can be no possibility of third world countries benefitting from world trade.

Prioritize Agreements on Social Rights and the Environment

Actions taken to implement multilateral agreements dealing with the environment, health, development, human rights, safety, indigenous peoples’ rights, food security, women’s rights, workers’ rights and animal welfare cannot be challenged at or undermined by the WTO.

Democratize Decision-Making

People must have the right to self-determination and the right to know and decide on international commercial commitments. Among other things, this requires that decision-making processes in negotiations and enforcement at international commercial bodies be democratic, transparent and inclusive. The WTO operates in a secretive, exclusionary manner that shuts out most third world country members and the public. It is dominated by a few powerful governments acting on behalf of their corporate elites.

Dispute the System

The WTO dispute settlement system is unacceptable. It enforces an illegitimate system of unfair rules and operates with undemocratic procedures. It also usurps the rulemaking and legislative role of sovereign nations and local governments.

A socially just international trade system will also require change outside the WTO. Given the attacks by multinational corporations and governments on basic workers rights; the reversal of the gains of workers’ struggles; the undermining of job security; and the race-to-the-bottom in wages, workers rights must be strengthened worldwide.

Also, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the regional development banks must write off 100% of the debts owed to them by poor countries. The use of structural adjustment conditionality to force trade liberalization in third world countries and elsewhere must be stopped. Governments must negotiate, through the UN system and with full democratic participation, a binding agreement to ensure that corporate conduct is socially and environmentally responsible and democratically accountable.

Conclusions and Consequences

We are committed to a sustainable, socially just and democratically accountable trade system. Thus, as a first step, we demand that our governments implement the changes listed in this document in order to roll back the power and authority of the WTO and turn trade around.

We commit ourselves to mobilize people within our countries to fight for these demands and to defy the unjust policies of the WTO. We will also support other people and countries who do so with international solidarity campaigns.

We pledge to carry the Spirit of Seattle around the world. . . .

* * *

War Profiteering: Bayer, Anthrax and International

By Kavaljit Singh

Asia-Europe Dialogue Project

November 5, 2001

Editor’s note: This article, which lays out the issues surrounding drug patents, WTO rules and public health, was written before the recent WTO meeting in Doha, Qatar. As a result of tenacious negotiating by developing countries at that meeting, poor nations are now allowed to import and export generic drugs in the face of public health emergencies, like the AIDS pandemic. Activists are celebrating this victory, while at the same time pointing out that it is just one exception to WTO rules on intellectual property rights, which remain largely intact. We believe this piece is still timely because it gives context to the fierce fight over drug patenting in the WTO and the implications for both developed and developing countries.

Against the backdrop of the September 11th terrorist attacks in the US, the current anthrax crisis has raised highly controversial issues related to intellectual property rights.

Just a few months back, the world witnessed heated debate on the patent controversy when the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association of South Africa took the South African government to court to prevent it from importing cheaper versions of patented AIDS drugs. Under tremendous pressure from health activists around the world, the drug companies unconditionally dropped their lawsuit against the South African government.

No doubt, it is unfair to compare the AIDS pandemic in South Africa with the current anthrax crisis in the US. Compared to over 4.7 million patients suffering from AIDS and nearly 300 AIDS patients dying every day in South Africa, the anthrax crisis in the US has only affected a dozen people and claimed four lives until now. Yet there are several similarities. Not only do both instances relate to public health, but more importantly, the bone of contention revolves around the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Moreover, both these instances confirm the apprehensions of many developing countries, as well as health activists in the developed world, that drug corporations put profits before public health. They also see drug patents enforced by WTO regime as severely restricting the ability of national governments to take measures to safeguard public health.

The Price of Anthrax Drugs: Scarier Than the Disease

The current controversy on patented drugs started when the first signs of anthrax attacks appeared in US in early October 2001.

Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic drug, is prescribed for patients suffering from anthrax and other bacteria. The German pharmaceutical corporation, Bayer AG, holds the patent for Cipro (the brand name of ciprofloxacin) in the US until December 9, 2003. Under the present TRIPs agreement, no other drug company is allowed to commercially manufacture and sell the generic versions of this drug in the US until the Bayer patent expires, except under extraordinary circumstances.

Cipro is not only one of the best selling antibiotic drugs in the world, but it also earns mega-profits for Bayer. In the US alone, Bayer sold $1.04 billion worth of Cipro in 1999.

As the spectre of anthrax epidemic loomed large in the public, people started piling up stocks of Cipro. The sudden increase in the demand for Cipro led to a steep hike in its retail prices. With the wholesale prices of Cipro at $4.67 for a 500 mg pill in the US, the retail prices went up to as much as $7 a pill. For anthrax treatment, it is recommended that patients should take two pills a day for 60 days. Thus, the retail price for two months stock of Cipro was well over $700, much beyond the means of poor Americans.

Given the fact that two months stock of a generic version of Cipro costs a fraction of the prevalent price, there was uproar over the monopolistic profits made by Bayer from the public health crisis. In India, for instance, Bayer’s Baycip (the brand name of ciprofloxacin in India) is available at drug stores at $0.13 a pill. Thus, the retail price for two months stock of Baycip would be just $17. Whereas two months stock of a generic version of ciprofloxacin is available at a price as low as $8 at drug stores in India.

Meanwhile, in spite of higher prices, Bayer is unable to produce a sufficient supply of Cipro to meet the US demand on short notice. At best, Bayer offered to produce 200 million pills within 60 days, much lower than the requirement of 1.2 billion pills. It would have taken several months for Bayer to meet the requirement.

Confronted with a scenario where panic was spreading like wild fire, the Bush administration should have busted Bayer’s patent on ciprofloxacin and allowed sale of generic versions of the drug in the country. There are a host of drug companies (including Ranbaxy, Dr Reddy’s Lab, and Cipla in India) which have already received quality approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for manufacturing ciprofloxacin. Many of these companies were not only ready to provide ciprofloxacin to the US within 60 days, but more importantly, they offered it at a fraction of price than what Bayer was charging the Americans.

In fact, there are legal provisions in the US that allow compulsory licensing. Under Federal law, the government can purchase products like ciprofloxacin for official use from manufacturers other than the patent holder during health emergencies. In addition, US law the government is exempt from paying any compensation to Bayer for suspending its patent.

Not only health activists and anti-corporate campaigners in the US are outraged. Even politicians like Charles Schumer, a Democrat senator from New York, strongly demanded the suspension of Bayer’s patent.

In a letter addressed to US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, Ralph Nader (consumer advocate and former presidential candidate) along with his colleague, James Love, called on the administration to immediately authorize generic production of ciprofloxacin.

In the letter, they pointedly told the US Health Secretary, “your official responsibility is to protect the public’s health, and not to defend large profiteering pharmaceutical companies, which are already making a fortune because of our country’s current problems. How do you define the patriotic choice here?”

Abject Surrender

Despite extensive domestic support for suspending Bayer’s patent on Cipro, the response of Bush administration was outrageous.

Tommy Thompson considered it “illegal” to suspend Bayer’s patent on Cipro. Instead he entered into negotiations with Bayer with the intention of lowering the price of Cipro. Facing an unprecedented public embarrassment, Bayer agreed to lower the price of Cipro for government purchase from $1.77 to $0.95.

Dubbed as “historic victory” in the US official circles, it would be absurd to view this agreement as a major accomplishment of the Bush administration. Rather, it was a major victory for Bayer which remains the sole supplier of the drug in the US until December 2003.

Further, the agreement with Bayer only covers government purchases of Cipro from the company while the drug will be sold at hospitals and drug stores at the regular retail price. Even at a discounted price, Bayer is still making profits from huge orders placed by the health authorities. Meanwhile, perturbed over this lopsided agreement with Bayer, consumer activists in several states have filed a lawsuit asking the court to scrap the agreement that gives monopoly rights to Bayer.

While these developments were taking place, allegations of price manipulations by Bayer have also come to light. It is alleged that the US subsidiary of Bayer AG signed illegal agreements with three of its competitors — Barr Laboratories, Rugby, and Hoechst-Marion Roussel — to prevent them from challenging its patent rights over Cipro.

According to anti-corporate activists, Bayer has paid a total sum of $200 million to date to these companies for not manufacturing or marketing a generic version of Cipro, thereby neutralizing competition to protect monopoly profits.

Canada’s Flip-flop Posture

Watching these developments in the US from a close quarter, neighboring Canada announced on October 18th that it would suspend Bayer’s patent on Cipro and allow generic drug manufacturers to sell the drug in the country. The Canadian authorities also approached a domestic generic drug maker, Apotex, to produce one million pills since Bayer was unable to meet the demand for Cipro. Apotex agreed to sell its generic version at $0.95 per pill to the health authorities, which was significantly lower than $1.59 charged by Bayer.

This move by the Canadian health authorities sent shock waves in the entire pharmaceutical industry. The drug industry was taken aback by the sudden change in the Canadian stance because the country had consistently supported the US position on the intellectual property rights in the past. Bayer, in collusion with several lobby organizations, used all kinds of pressure tactics — including threatening to sue the Canadian government — to reverse this move.

Within hours, Canadian officials reversed their stand and announced that they would honor Bayer’s patent on Cipro and would buy the drug only from the company. This sordid episode demonstrates the power of the drug companies and their lobby organizations to stifle competition from low cost generic drug manufacturers.

The US Administration: Hand in Glove with the Drug Giants

The Bush administration did not suspend the patent of Bayer largely because it was more concerned with the wider implications of such an action, particularly on the ongoing negotiations at the WTO.

Realizing that scrapping Bayer’s patent would set a precedent that could give legitimacy to the growing demands of the poor and developing world for more flexibility on patent issues, the US sent a clear message to the world that patents are more important than public health. Such a calculated move was not only meant to serve the corporate interests of drug manufacturers, but also to convey the message to the developing nations that the US administration would continue its discriminatory policy on the issue of patents.

In international economic negotiations, the US administration has been one of the strongest allies of the global drug industry. Washington played a key role in initiating the Uruguay round of GATT negotiations where several TRIPs agreements on pharmaceuticals were pushed forward. The US has challenged various countries at the WTO tribunal and has even threatened trade sanctions against several countries including Thailand, India, South Africa and Brazil for breaching TRIPs.

In the last couple of years, Washington has advocated even more stringent measures for protecting patents under the so-called ‘TRIPs-Plus’ mechanism.

Wider Ramifications

Several inferences can be drawn from the anthrax crisis in the US.

First, the US has unabashedly acknowledged the supremacy of patents over public health, even when its own citizens are concerned.

Second, the developed world is not immune to the grave danger to public health posed by WTO rules. This episode should serve as a wake up call to the rest of the developed countries who usually follow the footsteps of the US on patent issues. Poor and ordinary people, irrespective of their location, have a basic right to sound health, and therefore, safeguarding public health must take precedence over patents and monopoly profits of the drug companies.

Third, it is of utmost importance that drug industry monopolies be dismantled to ensure that crucial drugs are made accessible to the poor patients at affordable prices. Therefore, strict regulation of drug corporations must be an integral component of building public health system in the developed as well as the developing world.

Fourth, with critical support from the developed countries not forthcoming, the responsibility for demanding a comprehensive review of TRIPs — including reduction in the duration and scope of patent protection for essential drugs — rests with the poor and developing countries. This calls for greater unity and solidarity among the poor and the developed world on issues of common interest at the WTO and other international economic negotiations.

It is high time that the primacy of national health policy over international trade agreements, including the WTO, be restored.

Kavaljit Singh is the Director of Public Interest Research Centre, Delhi. He is also associated with Asia-Europe Dialogue Project.

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CorpWatch’s 2001 coverage of the WTO was made possible through the generous support of the Humanitarian Group for Social Development

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Last Update January 14, 2003, by The Catbird