On 11 June 2022, an international demonstration is being organised by La Vía Campesina and a large number of other organisations and social movements to denounce the neoliberal policies promoted by the WTO and its impacts on the peasantry.
In the context of this mobilisation, the newspaper Vorwärts and its French-speaking counterpart Voix populaire interviewed Raffaele Morgantini from CETIM to discuss the behind-the-scenes of this international organisation.
Can you briefly introduce the CETIM’s work and the extent to which it is linked ot the WTO?
Raffaele Morgantini: The CETIM is center for research and action regarding Global North-South relations, in the pursuit of human rights and international solidarity, with a view to establishing a democratic and equitable international order where every person and country has its place. We work on matters related to development, especially in the context of of the “maldevelopment” that our societies are confronted with.
These priorities force us to focus on the mechanisms at the origin of this generalized maldevelopment, always from the point of view – and in the interest – of the working classes.
In this context, the World Trade Organization (WTO) plays a major role as the keystone in the arch of the dominant inequitable and predatory trade system. This is why we are naturally interested in this organization.
Let’s go back over the more than 27 previous years of the history of the WTO. We are seeing a very strong anti-globalist movement, a regrouping of highly varied actors. The enthusiasm of both the partisans and adversaries of the WTO has diminished. What are the consequences of the WTO to which we are still confronted today (for example the globalization of property throughout the world)? And what should the anti-WTO movement absolutely emphasize?
Since its creation in 1995, the WTO has become one of the driving forces of the neoliberal offensive by the rulings cliques against the peoples of the world. It is an instrument in service to the great Western powers to promote unbridled commodification of all sectors of society’s activity, by forcing the opening of markets and the privatization of public services. It is a way of entrenching all-powerful neoliberal capitalism, to the detriment of other development models and ways of conceiving of international trade. From another perspective, it can be seen as a consolidation at all levels of the ideology of the search for immediate and constant maximization of profits for powerful business milieus, and in particular for the great transnational corporations and financial institutions, in opposition to models of collective sharing of wealth based on mutual solidarity. The declared objective of the WTO is to “regulate international trade” – for the benefit of the most powerful.
A Noxious Agricultural Market Deregulation
Regarding the harmful consequences caused by the WTO, they are many, depending on the sectors of activity. Among the areas covered by the CETIM, two are of particular interest.
First, agricultural market liberalization constitutes one of the major points of focus of the WTO. During all of its ministerial conferences, the WTO has advocated for and committed itself to promoting the liberalization and deregulation of the agricultural markets of its member states, to the detriment of the sovereignty of states and of the peoples in this sector essential for general welfare of all. The main consequence of the WTO agreements on agriculture is simple: governments are forced to eliminate all protection of domestic markets and all support for their peasantry, them, whose resources are often greatly insufficient for their needs, even more fragile. Thus, the great land owners and the transnational corporations end up taking over the national markets in the wake of the dispossession of the peasant communities.
A privatization of life
Second, there is the matter of intellectual property. In this regard, the WHO agreement on aspects of trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) is highly problematic for the peoples of the Global South in that this agreement rolls out the red carpet for the transnational corporations aiming to impose proprietorial regimes (patents) on all sorts of products, including life itself, for the benefit of these businesses and their share-holders. By means of these perverse mechanisms, these entities unduly appropriate to themselves resources, knowledge and traditional practices of peoples and communities. Moreover, by patenting certain knowledge, the corporations – pharmaceutical and agri-food, for example – can monopolize them in order to develop medicines and seeds and sell them on the global markets, often at prices that are beyond the means of the persons and communities dispossessed by these very corporations. These actions are rightly characterized as biopiracy.
The social movements and all the organizations committed to the struggle to change the world must continue to makes their own the questions linked to the WTO, to deconstruct and expose its dark underside and to equip themselves with the means to advance alternative models. More than ever, a structural overhaul of the WTO is necessary, in order to build a democratic organization oriented to solidarity in service to the peoples of the world.
The WTO brings together three key trade agreements. What are the main characteristics of these agreements, and what is the current state of talks?
Regarding the characteristics of the WTO agreements, I think that I have already addressed that in the preceding question.
Regarding the current state of the talks, one must bear in mind that for several years they have been stalled. Nonetheless, the old agreements are still in force and continue their crusade, causing huge damage on the global level.
Moreover, the WTO agreements negatively influence trade and bilateral investment agreements, making them more aggressive.
In this regard, several bilateral free-trade agreements have also come about owing to the WTO’s paralysis. What are the main characteristics of this, and what are the negative effects that you have ascertained?
Still in the same perspective of international trade liberalization and deregulation, the WTO has allowed a multiplication of free-trade agreements (bilateral and multilateral).
The transnational corporation use these free-trade agreements to impose themselves, increase market share and defend their interests in general. They constitute the keystone of the power of these entities and their political allies.
One element that can help us to understand the way these instruments support the interests of the transnational corporations is the private arbitrage courts. These play a fundamental role in the transnational legal architecture, for they coercively and effectively ensure the legal security of investments by the transnationals face to face with these states. For this, the free-trade agreements generally provide for the obligation to submit to arbitrage disputes between the states and foreign investors. Thus, the transnational corporations are authorized to recur to these instances to sue a particular state as soon as they reckon that a state has created an obstacle to their trade interests.
In subjecting themselves to the provisions of these agreements, states renounce a basic prerogative of their sovereignty, the territorial scope of their national courts. The private arbitrage courts constitute a sort of system parallel to “official” judicial systems, thus creating de facto a sort of new legal framework, erected according to the desires of the transnational corporations and ensuring the primacy of these entities’ rights. In other words, one can say that these free-trade agreements undermine popular sovereignty, democracy and the institutional legal norms and mechanisms (national and international) that defend the food and agricultural system based on social and climate justice.
In short, the CETIM represents a strong alternative and a vision of a better trading system. Can you tell us about that?
In a finite world, in terms of natural resources and with the levels of interdependence that we know today, it is delusional to continue to bet on trade at any price, based on a competitive and inequitable international order, reinforcing the power of the transnationals over our societies.
The dominant model causes the disintegration of the social and environmental tissue, deforestation, the destruction of biodiversity, and it increases inequality within and among countries. We must work for an overturning of the social relations of production, in favor of new trade practices based on solidarity and a relocalized economy planned according to the needs of all.
What role and what importance do you attach to the peasant declaration (UNDROP)?
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas is a historic instrument in a legal framework of great importance for every project aiming to revolutionize in a progressive way our societies and our food and agriculture systems. I think that it is not exaggerated to emphasize the transformational and emancipatory character of the Declaration, assumng that the holders of these rights (peasants and other rural communities) make the most of them.
The importance of this instrument can be measured by three main elements.
First, the Declaration is the first legal international instrument to enshrine norms, at the level of international law, specifically protecting the general rights and needs of rural populations. It thus constitutes an explicit instrument of struggle in the hands of these populations and their allies, a legal instrument in service to the political struggle to change the agricultural and food systems.
Second, it responds to the legitimate demands of rural populations: be able to live and work in conditions of dignity, in the respect of their basic rights, and at the same time be able to control the production and marketing processes of their products – everything that the neoliberal policies promoted by the WTO (and other financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the commercial and investment banks) have stolen from them.
A defense of social and climate justice
Third, it is necessary to emphasize the progressive character of the Declaration. Its articles and provisions aim to promote a peasant agriculture and social and climate justice in rural areas, as opposed to the current system that subordinates them to the transnational agribusiness corporations’ interests. Further, the Declaration is an instrument built from the bottom up in a perspective of social and economic change, a tool constructed by and for the rural world, with constantly in mind the necessity of finding a balance between the social and economic development of the peasantry and that of the urban milieus.
If it is well used, respected and implemented, the Declaration will be a real vector of social change in rural areas. Once again, its implementation depends on the capacity of the peasant movement and its allies to build a collective movement that will operate in this way. But we have much hope for the future, for we know the strength and the capacity of mobilization and articulation of the international peasant movement.
Interview by Mathias Stalder, Uniterre
Interview published in Vorwärts, May 2022 (in German).