Environment a Non-Issue at World Trade Talks

DOHA, Qatar, November 10, 2001 (ENS) - The World Trade Organization's 4th Ministerial Conference approved today by consensus the text of the agreement for China's entry into the organization. China will become legally a member 30 days after the World Trade Organization (WTO) receives notification of the ratification of the agreement by China's Parliament.

The 142 member governments of the WTO are meeting at the Qatar International Exhibition Centre. It is the first WTO ministerial conference since anti-globalization protesters, concerned that environmental and labor protections may be lost as international trade expands, shut down the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999.


WTO Director General Mike Moore (Photo courtesy WTO)
Opening this WTO session Friday, Director General Mike Moore made mention of Seattle but made no mention of the environment as an issue of concern during this meeting. The WTO objectives, Moore said, "are the further liberalization of trade, the creation of more jobs, the strengthening of the multilateral system and the extension of the full benefits of that system to countries now marginalized by poverty."

"The issues facing Ministers this week are essentially the same as those we faced and failed to resolve at our conference in Seattle two years ago, but we are now vastly better prepared to deal with them. This is largely thanks to the extraordinary process of consultation and debate which has dominated the work of the WTO throughout the past two years," Moore said referring to clarification of issues that took place at the WTO headquarters in Geneva.

"We learned lessons in Seattle which we applied in the Geneva process," Moore said, "and which we must not forget over the next few days."

“The world economy needs the signal of confidence in open markets and commitment to international cooperation which agreements here will deliver," Moore said.


Prime Minister of Qatar Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani (Photo courtesy State of Qatar)
Welcoming the delegates to his country, His Highness Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar, said the multilateral trade system has contributed to the growth of world economy and over the past 20 years has helped some developing countries to boost their economic and social development.

"However, the benefits were not uniformly spread," the sheik said, and have bypassed many developing countries. This can be seen if we look at income distribution across the world, which is still skewed in favour of the few in an unacceptable manner. Eighty percent of the world population consumes only 15 percent of the resources of the world, while the other 20 percent consume about 85 percent of those resources," he said.

The international environmental group Greenpeace has the same imbalance in mind as it lobbies WTO participants to hold the United States accountable for the greenhouse gases it emits burning fossil fuels to power its economy.


The Rainbow Warrior off Doha (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, sailed into Doha with the purpose of challenging the WTO to use this ministerial conference "to force the United States to commit to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change."

The operations rulebook for the Kyoto Protocol was finalized early this morning in Morocco by governments of 171 countries, without the agreement of the United States.

“The WTO in its own charter claims to promote the use of the world’s resources for sustainable development,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director, Gerd Leipold, on board the Rainbow Warrior.

“That claim is nonsense if they do not actively promote efforts to combat climate change through the Kyoto Protocol. By allowing the U.S. to remain outside the protocol, the WTO is effectively handing them a multi-billion dollar trade subsidy. This makes a mockery of the organization’s own rules.”

Trade unions and their members are organizing and participating in around 70 anti-globalization actions in 45 countries.


More than 10,000 workers demonstrated Friday in Sofia, Bulgaria (Photo courtesy ICFTU)
"Many of the worst effects of globalization are felt in the developing world, and the broad participation of workers in the non-industrialized countries, shows just how widespread the discontent is," said Bill Jordan, general secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Jordan, who is leading a 50 member trade union delegation in Qatar, pointed out that roughly half of the actions are taking place in developing and transition countries.

Moore told delegates inside the hall that this conference will initiate the next stage in the development of the trading system, "whose focus must be the fuller integration of the developing world."

"We know that trade and trade liberalization are not ends in themselves," he said. "Nor will trade - or economic growth itself - eradicate poverty. But we also know that protectionism will create poverty, as it always has, and will increase international tension and conflict, as it always has."