Workday Minnesota

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WTO talks fail to address worker issues

September 15, 2003

CANCUN, Mexico — World Trade Organization negotiations collapsed because of the WTO’s failure to tackle the needs of developing countries or to confront the social problems of trade, union and other fair trade groups said.

“The collapse of yet another WTO Conference has further undermined the credibility of the WTO”, said Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the world’s largest trade union body, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. “This crisis will continue as long as WTO members refuse to tackle development, poverty, employment, and workers’ rights.”

But this is more than a crisis of the trading system; it is a crisis of global governance, unions said.

“We call on world leaders to reflect on the social vacuum at the heart of the multilateral system. This requires a discussion at the highest political level. The United Nations must show leadership in this,“ Ryder concluded. The ICFTU represents 158 million workers in 231 affiliated organisations in 150 countries and territories.

Labor, farm, student, human rights and environmental groups protested outside the talks in Cancun and at scores of locations around the world. About 150 people gathered outside the federal building in Minneapolis Friday to call for fair trade agreements.

Photos by Mary Turck, Resource Center of the Americas

The collapse exposed irreconcilable differences between developing countries and the United States, European Union and Japan, fair trade advocates said. In particular, developing countries objected to extending trade negotiations to new issues such as investment before their needs were addressed.

"The collapse of the talks shows the fragility of the current global trading system," said Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, which is based in Minneapolis.

"We can't continue a global trading system that primarily benefits the interests of multinational corporations and doesn't address the serious concerns of farmers, workers and people of the world."

The WTO poses a threat to citizens because the trade body has power to overrule governments and undermine the rule of law, said Jennifer Esposito, legislative representative for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Secret WTO panels have ruled against U.S. laws that protect the environment, for example, and European laws on food safety.

The failure of WTO negotiators to reach agreement on a new trade deal "is a victory for working people around the world," Esposito said.

Environmentalists also breathed a sigh of relief. "No agreement is better than a bad agreement," said David Waskow, trade policy coordinator at Friends of the Earth - U.S.

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Some of the Minneapolis marchers carried signs that emphasized the thousands of jobs lost under existing free trade deals such as NAFTA.

Photo by Mary Turck, Resource Center of the Americas

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