Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 6, 1999
Riot shows anxiety over trade - bishop
Vatican issues 'reflection pamphlet for WTO meeting
By JOHN NORTON
Catholic News Service
The violent demonstrations that disrupted the opening of a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle show that the world body is doing too little to involve civil society in its decisions, a Vatican official said.
"It is very clear that all over the world there is immense anxiety at globalization," Bishop Diarmuid Martin, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told Catholic News Service Dec. 1.
"While condemning the violence, which is counterproductive, it is necessary to ask why there is this widespread anxiety," he said.
"The WTO cannot proceed without the support of civil society, issuing decisions from on high. Civil society must be involved - citizens are the protagonists in development policy."
Thousands of environmental and labour protesters clashed with riot police in Seattle Nov. 30, forcing the cancellation of opening ceremonies of the WTO's third ministerial meeting.
A curfew was imposed overnight, and the National Guard was called in to help police maintain security.
Martin said the WTO has to break out of current ways of decision-making, which tend to exclude the participation of citizens and non-governmental organizations.
"Negotiating things behind the scenes just doesn't work anymore," he said.
"I hesitate to throw all the blame on the WTO, which is just five years old," he said. "Individual nations also have a responsibility to explain policies to their citizens, and they must be brutally honest about explaining the risks."
Though it might be difficult to include large numbers of non-governmental organizations in the negotiations, those groups must at least be engaged by individual countries in defining policies before negotiations, he said.
The credibility of some wealthy nations' calls for open markets was damaged by their retention of protectionist measures, particularly in agricultural and textile products, he said.
Martin said that opening markets was even more important than reducing or cancelling the foreign debt burden of poor countries, a measure Pope John Paul has repeatedly urged.
"Cancellation of foreign debt is useless unless markets are opened to the products of developing nations," Martin said.
According to some estimates, industrialized nations' protectionism - such as taxing imported goods - costs developing countries as much as $700 billion in potential annual gains from trade.
The Vatican said talks at the Nov. 30-Dec. 3 meeting should be guided by the need to fight poverty.
In a 30-page pamphlet prepared by the justice and peace council, the Vatican said the WTO should give priority to the needs of developing countries.
It also called for it to increase working links with other organizations to promote development and to focus on full implementation of past agreements before tackling new issues.
The Vatican enjoys permanent observer status at the World Trade Organization.
Martin said the pamphlet, released at the Vatican Nov. 30, was a "stimulus for reflection" rather than a "formal document" of the council.
"The reflections are offered as a contribution to the search for new ways of strengthening a rules-based world system, in which trade and development are placed at the service of the global human community, especially in the fight against poverty," the bishop said in the pamphlet's introduction.
Quoting Mike Moore, WTO director general, the pamphlet underlines that the "aims of trade, development and the alleviation of poverty are inextricably linked."
Though previous WTO agreements have aided market liberalization in developing nations, more must be done to reduce poverty and marginalization in those countries, the pamphlet said.
Over the past 10 years, the Least Developed Countries' share in international trade has dropped to just half of one per cent, the Vatican said.
The Vatican pamphlet included several specific proposals:
- Reduce tariffs and subsidies on agricultural goods which hamper market access for developing countries.
"While subsidies may still have an importance for the agricultural development of the poorest countries, as a provisional help to gain competitiveness on international markets, they are no longer acceptable in their actual levels for developed countries," the pamphlet said.
- Formulate standards on genetically modified foods in accordance with sound science and the "principle of precaution" contained in an earlier agreement.
Trade in genetically modified foods has significantly increased in recent decades, the Vatican said, and its "impact on plant, animal and human health is still to be definitively tested according to internationally recognized standards."
Health and quality nutrition should always be put before commercial targets, the Vatican said.
- Reinforce juridical and operational means to promote the transfer of technology, intellectual property rights and technical skills to developing countries.
The Vatican called for a "substantial increase of the regular WTO budget and of contributions for trade-related technical assistance" to fully integrate poor countries.
- Assist developing countries in implementing an environmental protection policy.
- Strengthen cooperation between the WTO and the International Labour Organization to protect workers' rights.
- Increase the ability of the Least Developed Countries to take advantage of opportunities provided by WTO agreements, like the mechanism to settle trade disputes between countries.
A proposed Legal Advisory Centre should be established without further delay, the Vatican said. The pamphlet also called for fast-tracking WTO membership requests by developing countries.