(Back to CF Home Page)




Dec 17, 2011
Contact: Deborah James +41 (0) 76 652 6813

Global Civil Society Opposition to the “Pledge Against Protectionism”

A wide variety of civil society experts from the global Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network, present in Geneva for the 8th Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), voiced their opposition to the idea of a standstill on tariffs in the WTO proposed within the “Pledge Against Protectionism” circulated today by a group of mostly developed countries.

Aksel Naerstad, chair of the Norwegian TradeCampaign (network organizations of labour unions, farmers’ organizations, environmental organizations, solidarity organizations and other NGOs):
“The Norwegian support for the pledge against protectionism is shocking and represent a dramatic shift in Norwegian trade policy. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Stoere, in his speech in the plenary spoke strongly against all forms of protectionism, without any exemptions either for developing countries or for any sectors. Norway uses strong protectionism in agriculture, which is crucial for keeping Norwegian agriculture alive.

Norway also protects public services from competition. Norway has been advocating for increased policy space for developing countries, but now they call on other WTO-members to commit to not use even the policy space allowed within WTO. This dramatic shift in Norwegian trade policy has not been publicly debated, and we doubt that it has been discussed in the government. It is not likely that two of the three parties in the government would agree on this dramatic shift in Norwegian policy.”

Michael Frein from Church Development Service (EED), Germany said:
"It is a shame that some countries try to use the current global economic crisis to reduce the policy space of developing countries, by even pushing them to not make use of their established rights under existing WTO rules. Instead, we would expect concrete measures regarding the global ecological crisis, the food crisis and poverty eradication."

Burghard Ilge (senior policy officer of environment and development NGO BothENDS and NGO adviser to the European Commission in the EU delegation):
‘The main problems with the current proposals on how to prevent protectionism that I have seen so far is that they focus on tariff measures only. In particular developing countrieswhich are less well positioned to take the same government interventions developed countries took in respond to the crisis might need the policy space the WTO allows them with respect to tariff measures.

The argument to prevent protectionism should not be abused by countries to reduce the rights other countries still have to respond to the crises in a one-sided way.

The WTO tried to also look at the stimulus packages taken by developed countries but I see very little effort to discuss how to address the trade distorting effects of such measures.

It would be a total perversion of the outcome of MC8 if the EU and other developed countries would still be able to reintroduce export subsidies and use other WTO compatible export stimuli, while developing countries less well positioned to take such measures wouldlose important policy tools to respond to related trade distortions.’

Kinda Mohamadieh, from the Arab NGO Network for Development said:
"While developing countries have been facing the challenges arising from a global economic crisis they did not cause, the "pledge" that is being promoted under the name of fighting against protectionism will bring in restrictions on using multiplepolicy tools that these countries have fought throughout the WTO negotiations to save, which are a right that WTO law should protect and not jeopardize, and which are essential to any development prospects in these countries".

Krishan Bir Chaudhary from Bharatiya Krishak Samaj (BKS) in India said:
‘Indian farmers condemn the double standards of countries that proposed an additional pledge against protectionism. While, the developed countries resorted to heavily protecting their agri-business corporations, it is travesty of justice to call upon the developing countries and LDCs to remove the minimum support structures created to safeguard the livelihoods of millions of small and marginal farmers.

Without the removal of Green Box subsidies (a great protection given to agri-business corporations by the developed countries), the developed country demands in this pledge that developing countries and least developed countries should not be able to exercise their rights under the WTO to raise their applied tariffs to theirbound rate is unfair. Agricultural liberalisation in India has already caused 256000 Indian farmers to commit suicide. We call on India not to sign this pledge or agree to any standstill at the WTO.”

Rangarirai Machemedze from SEATINI Zimbabwe commented that:
“Indeed countries must “fight all forms of protectionism in the strongest terms”. This includes stimulus packages, bailouts of banks, industries and all forms of agricultural subsidies. African countries have suffered from protectionist policies which have always been practised by developed countries and are still on the rise. There is nothing new from what these developed countries are saying about protectionism. They have to deal with their domestic protectionist tendencies first beforethey ask for multilateral cooperation. These are double standards at their worst. The developed countries’ pledge to fight protectionism has no shame at all. They have no moral ground to talk against protectionism when they are the worst culprits.”

Adam Wolfenden from the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) stated:
“For countries across the Pacific, policy space and flexibilities are essential to ensuring that development happens in a manner that is consistent with the unique needs of Pacific Island Countries. Samoa and Vanuatu as acceding countries are being asked to make significant commitments and this pledge and its 'one-size-fits-all' nature highlights the disconnect between the WTO and what real development means for the Pacific.”

Jim Fernando the Campaign Officer for Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines-KMP) said:
The “Pledge Against Protectionism” statement issued by countries headed by the US and EU “is a desperate attempt to cover up the truth that the rotten and bankrupt “development” paradigm of so-called “free market” globalization is the main cause of the global economic and financial crisis.”

Obviously, the “pledge” is aimed to undermine the world people’s growing clamor for genuine development and countries defending their national economies from the continuing onslaught of globalization.”

Sylvester Wullo Bagooro of Third World Network-Africa said:
“It is essential to putprotectionism in context. Protectionism through use of standards or the use of environmental reasons to block goods and services from developing countries is unacceptable. However developing countries still need the policy space to protect local industries. The current developed countries used the same policy instruments at their nascent stage of development. Anyway the greatest protectionists today are still the developed countries so it is actually hypocritical for them to talk about protectionism.”

Monica Di Sisto the Vice-President of Fair, solidarity economy cooperative in Italy commented that:
"the poorest small scale agriculture producers in Italy are affected by international spike of food prices as the global south ones. In solidarity and in tight cooperation as we're doing together under the shared campaigning umbrella, we need to explore new and effective ways to cooperate and to protect this agro-ecological way to produce and live the rural areas avoiding dumping and others unfair practices, and in the other side we'll continue to press EU to support poorest Countries in protect their productions, smallhollders and biodiversity thanks to an adequate policy space".

Over 50 civil society experts – trade unionists, farmers, development advocates, and consumer activists – from 30 countries have traveled to Geneva for the 8th Ministerial meeting of the WTO, working through the global OWINFS network and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Civil society delegates are participating in OWINFS activities from: Argentina, Australia, Benin, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany,Ghana, India, Italy, Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Uganda, the United States, Vanuatu, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

OWINFS is a global network of NGOs and socialmovements working for a sustainable, socially just, and democratic multilateral trading system. www.ourworldisnotforsale.org.

- 30 -

The following statements have also been released regarding the “Pledge Against Protectionism”

A joint statement from CGT, Argentina, FOCO, Argentina, REBRIP, Brazil, CUT, Peru, CUT, Brazil, REDGE, Peru, RMALC, Mexico stated:

In the face of the Pledge Against Protectionism, promoted by Australia, Canada, United States, Japan and the European Union on December 15, 2011, during the 8th WTO Ministerial Conference, and supported by 18 more countries including Mexico, Peru, Chile, and CostaRica, we, undersigned, organizations from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Peru, united with over 50 civil society representatives from 30 countries attending the 8th WTO Ministerial in Geneva, Switzerland, raise our voice to denounce the Pledge Against Protectionism promoted by a handful of countries that are seeking to force free trade and transnationals’ interests on the agenda over the satisfaction of our peoples’ needs, ignoring the deep economic crisis these policies provoked.

It is not with such calls against protectionism but with real measures in favour of LDCs in the Global South and deep transformations to the actual trade rules that the world trading system will bring back development to the center and play its role as a means and not an end in itself.

By pushing forward the dogma that free trade is the only way to reach a better world, those countries whose economies are based on trade liberalization pretend to spread the world over a free trade faith which has brought the world into an economic, financial, energy, food and environmental crisis of great proportions which affects everyone.

If they don’t accept to make the adequate concessions to LDCs nor include appropriate measures that submit trade to considerations of social justice, of sustainable development, of technological transfers, of internal productive and industrial processes, of funding for development, and of support to regional integration efforts to reach peace and social cohesion, such calls against protectionism reveal their real intentions of imposing old neoliberal recipes, such as market access, opening public markets to foreign interests, excessive investments protection measures, etc.

Far from reorienting the actual unfair and unbalanced trade rules which favour trade concentration in the hands of a small number of transnationals and the primarization of exports based on the growing and irrational exploitation of human and natural resources from the South, these countries are creating a smoke screen to hide the consequences and negative influence of actual trade rules that deepen poverty, inequality and the crisis peoples are confronting.

Instead of pushing further the commodification of common goods, the financialization of food and other basic products for human life, we reiterate our call for strengthening the communities’ capacity and States’ responsability to implement policies for common well-being, including the ones that are designed to safeguard strategic sectors in each nation and guarantee self-sufficiency and food sovereignty, for it is necessary to secure sufficient policy space for national initiatives.

We demand that they stop diluting the development agenda, fulfill their engagements of facilitating trade of poor countries from the South, stop fostering divisions between WTO members withplurilateral agreements projects, and restrain their pressures for the inclusion of “new issues” –like investments- that stall the completion of the multilateral trade negotiations that have been developed from a development and non corporate perspective. Trade must be fair and understood as a possible instrument for development, not as an end in itself, thus it must be subordinated to the ambitious development projects nations and peoples want to drive forward.

We exhort all governments from Latin America and Caribbean area to resist the pressures of the countries that promote this Pledge Against Protectionism, and we call on Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico, to remove their support to this initiative.

The African Trade Network (ATN) released a statement that said:
We, members of African Trade Network (ATN), attending the Eighth Ministerial Conference (MC8) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in Geneva, Switzerland from the 15-17th December 2011, strongly object to the moves by the developed countries such as United States, European Union, Australia, among others in their joint ministerial press statement issued on the 15th of December 2011 titled “Pledge Against Protectionism” that basically is calling for a standstill clause in the WTO. They are also calling for other developing countries to join their move.

We state that the anti-protectionism messages must be put in context and in the spirit of theDoha Development Agenda (DDA). Protectionism through standards or the use ofenvironmental reasons to block goods and services from developing countries is unacceptable. However, African countries still need the policy space for industrialization and development purposes (to protect agriculture and local industries through the use of tariffs among others). The developed countries used the same policy instruments at their nascent stages of development andthey are now denying developing countries the usage of the same tools. Notwithstanding this, the greatest protectionists today are still the developed countries hence it is hypocritical for them to talk against protectionism.

Furthermore, we reject attempts by the developed countries to introduce the standstill clause in the WTO that will shrink the space for Africa countries to use tariffs (both bound and applied) and other trade measures to develop but rather open the markets ofAfrican economies. Developed countries today in addition to their domestic subsidies, have the higher applied agricultural tariffs (18%) than developing countries (15%) on average. Such a move will restrict the ability of African countries to use trade policy as an important and legitimate tool for industrialization and increased food production.

We urge African governments and delegates to say no to such calls and stand by the Accra declaration on WTOissues by the Africa Union Trade Ministers, which emphasizes the need for afair and balanced outcome of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), which must prioritise development as the main deliverable.

We also call upon African countries to denounce the un-transparent, secretive and exclusive meetings that are conducted by a few countries on behalf of the rest of the membership of the WTO. In this regard, the so-called “elements of political guidance” (contained in document WT/MIN (11)/W/2) cannot be the basis of discussions at the 8th WTO Ministerial Conference as it has been drafted by about 30 countries out of the 153 members.

We reiterate the importance of maintaining the multilateral approach to the negotiations, where all members have equal opportunities to participate and contribute to the development of a balanced and fair rules based trading system. Current efforts to have the so-called early harvest or plurilateral agreements are killing multilateralism hence development. We urge all African countries to refuse to be part of this plurilateral approach as it may become a template for all future negotiations. Issues that were previously rejected by developing countries are now being brought through the back door in the name of plurilateral agreements e.g. the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).

Negotiations should remain focused on delivering development especially to poorer countries. This means countries must have the policy space to determine their development.

We also call on citizens in Africa to urge their governments to protect the policy space that Africa needs to develop.

The Council of Canadians released a statement which said:
Harper turns his back on development at WTO with divisive “pledge against protectionism” and unhelpful Government Procurement Agreement

Ottawa – The Council of Canadians is saddened by efforts from the Harper government to yet again undermine multilateralism and the demands of developing countries, this time at the WTO with a harmful “pledge against protectionism.”The social justice organization also regrets that Canada continues to expand the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement, which unnecessarily restricts public options for supporting local, sustainable development at home and in other countries.

“Fresh from pulling out of the Kyoto Accord and essentially abandoning global efforts to save the planet from climate change, the Harper government is again turning its back on developing countries at the WTO,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the grassroots social justice organization. “The so-called pledge against protectionism, which includes a standstill and rollback on pro-active economic policies, only further undermines the efforts of poor and developing countries to make the global trade system work for them.”

The Council of Canadians joins the Our World Is Not For Sale network, to which it is a member, in asserting that “the global trade framework must work for the 99%: it must provide countries sufficient policy space to pursue a positive agenda for development and job-creation, and that trade rules must facilitate, rather than hinder,global efforts to ensure true food security, sustainable development, access to affordable healthcare and medicines, and global financial stability.”

Instead of continuing the difficult dance with all 150 WTO member states, the Harper government announced proudly it had reached a new agreement with 42 countries on government procurement. The plurilateral WTO Government Procurement Agreement aims to restrict how local governments and other public entities spend public money. The deal explicitly bans offsets, or any conditions such as local content quotas, designed to maximize the local benefit of public spending.

“The GPA is avoided by most developing countriesfor good reason because it further ties their hands in ways that support powerful multinational services, construction and other firms from the Global North,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Now Harper and other rich countries are trying to use this plurilateral form ofnegotiating as a way to move their priorities forward at the WTO, whether it’s in services liberalization or investment, while leaving developing country concerns behind them.”

The Conservative government is currently pursuing multiple preferential free trade agreements with developed and developing countries, all of which extend the free trade agenda in NAFTA much further in ways that benefit powerful corporations while limiting the powers of local governments to direct economic activity in more sustainabledirections. The Council of Canadians is campaigning strongly against the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which even business lobby groups admit is more about restructuring the Canadian economy versus opening new markets in Europe.

The Council of Canadians endorsed and stands by the OWINFS statement, issued before the WTO Ministerial in Geneva this week, which emphasizes the need for the WTO to put jobs, food security and sustainable development first. OWINFS collects organizations, activists andsocial movements worldwide fighting the current model of corporate globalization embodied in global trading system. These groups are committed to a sustainable, socially just, democratic and accountable multilateral trading system. The recent OWINFS statement on the current WTO Ministerial s available here: http://www.ourworldisnotforsale.org/en/signon/wto-turnaround-food-jobs-and-sustainable-development-first.


For more information, please contact CAW Communications
Shannon Devine (cell) 416-302-1699 or John McClyment (cell) 416-315-3202