Trade Protesters to Mount Mass Lobby of British Parliament
Published on Friday, June 14, 2002 by
Trade Protesters to Mount Mass Lobby of British Parliament
by Daniel Nelson,

Opponents of the heavy clout wielded by corporations in trade negotiations which take place under the auspices of international governmental organizations, like the European Union (EU), the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization (WTO), are planning to stage a mass lobby of British lawmakers next week.

Organizers hope thousands of people will converge on the Westminster parliament June 19 and ask their elected representatives to press for greater justice in global trade arrangements in advance of three international summits: of EU heads of state in Spain next week, of G-8 leaders in Canada June 26-27, and of high-level delegates to the United Nations "Earth Summit" in South Africa at the end of August.

"The lobby will send a clear message that British voters want the rules on international trade re-written to favor the world's poorest communities and safeguard the environment," says Kati Dshedshorov of Christian Aid, one of several charities, aid agencies, and campaign groups behind the newly-formed Trade Justice Movement.

Trade and development campaigners have been heartened by remarks made in London last Saturday by the director-general designate of the Geneva-based WTO, Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, who disclosed plans to push for "some sort of a code of conduct" for corporations involved in cross-border trade.

Corporate pressure sometimes forced governments into agreements that were not in their interests, Supachai said, responding to critics of the WTO who argue that poorer countries among its 145 members lose out in deals which would help them, for example, to protect home-grown markets or increase commodity exports, both potential engines of economic growth in the developing world.

While WTO members, ranging from small Caribbean and Pacific islands to major economic powerhouses in Europe and North America, faced a raft of rules and agreements, Supachai pointed out, "We don't seem to have any rules for the multinationals and transnational corporations."

However, Supachai, a former deputy prime minister and minister of commerce in Thailand, warned that his proposal would meet strong opposition. "I have got some comments, negative comments, that some countries are not in agreement with this kind of effort."

The business-oriented Financial Times newspaper reported Thursday that the code of conduct suggestion had "raised eyebrows" and quoted critics as saying that "Supachai's efforts to pose as a champion of developing countries in the WTO risks antagonizing the organization's bigger members."

Barry Coates, director of the London-based World Development Movement, was more supportive but emphasized that, "Any code of conduct needs to be binding and fully enforceable, not voluntary. We also need parallel measures in national capitals where much of the corporate influence over trade policy takes place."

As the debate about trade rules hots up ahead of next week's mass lobby and the upcoming international summits, an online debate hosted by OpenDemocracy Thursday highlighted the perspective of the author of a recent Oxfam report, 'Rigged Rules, Double Standards,' which criticized the way the WTO carries out decision-making at its meetings.

Kevin Watkins argued that the current round of trade negotiations in Geneva, launched last November in Doha, Qatar, was the "last chance" for the organization to win some credibility. "Northern governments come to these meetings, put on a good show on trade and poverty reduction, and go away and do nothing, or even worse, they carry on with what they were doing before...reinforcing the poverty and inequality that occurs because of international trade," said Watkins.

"Of course...[developing countries] can always walk out of the WTO. But then that leaves [them] with no protection at all. I think that walking out is not the answer - changing the system is the answer."

© 2002