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Asian Civil Societies' Voice to WTO's Bali Package

"The WTO pushes through bad deal in the final hours; developed countries and transnational corporations are the big winners", says a statement/press communique released by a sizable group of Asian trade unions, WTO watchdogs, social movements and alternative Asia movements.
Nattawat Theeralerttham
11.12.2013

Bali Package is the first trade agreement ever concluded in the World Trade Organization (WTO) since its founding. The package is a product of the Ninth Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia, held in early December 2013 and is part of the Doha Development Round starting from 2001.

WTO is made up of, currently, 159 member governments. The talks are complex, with widely differing positions and interests. WTO is committed to two key principles: "decisions by consensus", which means every member has to give consent before any deal can be concluded, and "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" (also known as single undertaking), meaning every element of the deal is part of a whole, indivisible package and cannot be agreed separately.

This is why WTO always achieved nothing except fancy declarations and documents filled broadly vague objectives, with neither bidding mechanism nor implementation plan.

The Bali Package is, in a way, a groundbreaking step for WTO. Having been criticized heavily by not only from watchdogs and critical civil societies but also their own members, WTO was losing all its credibility and about to collapse. Bali Package is a savior for WTO.

After a series of desperate negotiations that had to extend for an additional day, in the final hours, WTO could finally conclude something. The Director-General of WTO, Roberto Azevedo said, "For the first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered. We're back in business."

The Trade Minister of Indonesia, the host country, Gita Wirjawan, said the agreement was “historic”.

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There is no question the Bali Package has saved WTO. It covers three areas that have been long pending on the WTO negotiation table: Trade Facilitation, Agriculture and Least Development Countries (LDCs).  But would this package actually save the world particularly the developing countries and the poor is another question.

Here is a critique from a group of active civil society organizations and watchdogs in Asia including Focus on the Global South/FTA Watch, Kepa's partner in the Mekong, who says “No”.

Trade Facilitation for TNCs

On the contrary to the trade boost claim made by WTO, the Bali Package is actually “costly to developing countries and ensures easier access and profits for Transnational Corporations (TNCs). Trade Facilitation, or the easing of customs procedures and borders, clearly benefits only the big TNCs that already control exports and imports. As the 2013 World Trade Report data shows, '80% of US exports are handled by 1% of large exporters, 85% of European exports are in the hands of 10% of big exporters and 81% of exports are concentrated in the top 5 largest exporting firms in developing countries'. ”

Threat to the Right to Food

The agriculture portion of the package, addressing food-stockholding, has “a very bad peace clause that violates the right to food and jeopardizes the right to food sovereignty as it places numerous restrictions on the ability of developing countries to give support to their small farmers and poor constituents."

“The peace clause only applies to existing public stockholding for food security programs that exceed the Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) or de minimis, as of the date of the decision, effectively meaning that only India can apply it and that no future food security programs of developing countries will be allowed."

“Finally, this peace clause is nonsense simply because no country should have to beg for the right to guarantee the right to food.”

Empty promise for LDCs

The promise of export subsidies for LDCs remains a mere promise. “It was already promised in the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration that all export subsidies will be eliminated by 2013. Today, in the Bali Package, there is again only a rhetorical promise that "export competition remains a priority issue for the post-Bali work programme.”

“In Cotton, a long-standing demand of African countries, also a promise in the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration that never got implemented. Today, in the Bali Package the promise is to have 'dedicated discussions' post-Bali. The Bali Package has a Least Developed Countries (LDC) Package but with nothing substantial or meaningful. The special and differential treatment and monitoring mechanism are old unfulfilled promises [until] today.”

Read the full statement/press communique.

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The Bali Package certainly helped to resurrect the Doha Development Round and bring back the credibility of WTO. But what the package, born out of WTO's desperation to survive, actually contains is being challenged from all sides.

Critical civil societies in Asia are calling for an end to the WTO and pushing for alternatives. Even within the optimistic circle, there is a growing realization that, the Doha Round will not end with the ambitious vision it started off with, but rather a much leaner version that is already being referred to as "Doha lite".