The Ins and Outs of the WTO

For more than a decade AWI has reported on the draconian trade rules governing global commerce: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the monolithic World Trade Organization (WTO). Meanwhile, we have fought to preserve animal protection rules and regulations against attempts to use trade policies to undermine democratically-enacted humane laws.

As AWI prepares to attend the upcoming WTO Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico from September 10-14, 2003, it is quite clear that our efforts on behalf of all animals are needed now more than ever.

The premise of the WTO and its predecessors is to "liberalize" trade between nations by progressively dropping tariffs and other trade restrictions. However, in an effort to increase the free flow of products across the globe, the WTO prevents import restrictions based on the process by which a product is created and prevents any member country from enacting legislation or regulations that treat one nation differently than another. This has led to a remarkable roster of disputes under the WTO involving dolphins, furbearers, and many other species.

Notably today, as food becomes an increasingly global issue, trade disputes involving the international commerce in meat products have increased exponentially: the U.S. and Australia have complained about Korean restrictions on importing chilled beef; Hungary has complained about Turkey's import restrictions on pet food; the U.S. and Canada have complained about European restrictions on the import of beef from animals given growth hormones; Australia and New Zealand have complained about U.S. restrictions on lamb imports; Poland has complained about high duties imposed on pig meat imported into the Czech Republic; Brazil has challenged Argentina's rules on poultry imports; and a series of disputes have arisen over food from the sea including salmon, swordfish, sardines, shrimp, and scallops.

The Cancun Ministerial Meeting will focus on the issue of agricultural trade, giving animal welfare advocates an important opportunity to advance our cause. The agriculture negotiations, for instance, include expansion of an important concept called the "green box." While the WTO pushes governments to reduce or eliminate subsidies to domestic producers, "green box" payments are certain subsidies that are protected from being cut.

To be in the green box, support must not be trade distorting or only minimally so (cannot give domestic producers an unfair advantage) and be supplied directly from the government to the producer (not costs passed on to the consumer). This enables a government, for instance, to provide support to agricultural producers for pest control, marketing services, and research into environmental programs. Current negotiations include the possibility of expanding the list of protected support to animal welfare programs. A country such as Poland, for instance, could provide financial support to family hog farmers since, in most instances, raising animals humanely comes at a higher cost to the producer. This would help these farmers survive the constant barrage of cheap corporate hog factory products.

The United States Trade Representative (USTR) has not backed the call for increased attention to animal welfare concerns within the WTO (not surprisingly), but the European Parliament has developed a fairly strong position on the subject. On July 3, 2003, by a vote of 297 to 93, the Parliament approved a resolution that "calls for enhanced recognition of non-trade aspects of agricultural policy by strengthening non-trade-distorting agricultural support measures through the 'green box,' to ensure that well-targeted and transparent support measures to promote environmental and rural development, employment and animal welfare goals are exempted from reduction commitments..." (emphasis added).

AWI will push hard for WTO members to include animal welfare protection more clearly during the negotiations.



While AWI staff monitor negotiations in the meeting, Special Projects Consultant Ben White will mobilize the public outside.

After massive protests shocked the WTO to a standstill in Seattle in 1999, the group held its next meeting in Doha, Qatar, far away from demonstrators' questions concerning the extension of corporate trade rules over democracy. Delegates in Cancun will be sequestered in the "Hotel Zone," a 22 kilometer long barrier island of glitzy hotels separated from the city by causeways; hotel workers commute from dusty tenements on the mainland.

AWI again will be the primary animal protection organization dramatizing the way in which WTO policies are disastrous for global humane and conservation efforts. In Seattle, our sea turtle costumes, worn by 240 volunteers, carried the message that no international treaty should have the power to challenge domestic laws protecting wildlife. The WTO initially had knocked down a U.S. law mandating that countries selling us shrimp use turtle excluder devices on shrimp nets.
In Cancun we will march a school of activists in dolphin costumes. You can look for the dolphins on the television coverage of the event… or you can come to Cancun and wear one for yourself!

The WTO embodies a new world order of undemocratic corporate control of commerce. But citizens across the globe are fighting back in defense of human rights, social justice, democracy, environmental safeguards, and animal protection. A new superpower has been born based on fairness, empowerment, and transparency: global civil society. The voice of this unified movement will be heard loud and clear in Cancun.

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