The Doha Development Agenda: a Prescription for the Mass Destruction of Livelihoods, Mass Unemployment and Deterioration of Working Conditions

By 150 Organizations

[This call by 150 organizations including the Public Service International published on the Attac Germany website is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

All the trade ministers of the world signed the original document of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in April 1994 in Marrakesch. In its founding, the WTO was committed to raising living standards and securing full employment and a constantly increasing growth of real income…

Did the miracle of Marrakesch occur? Are employment and prosperity secured and growing constantly? No. The WTO regulations on trade and investments have led the world into the opposite direction and the current negotiations threaten to lead us further astray.

After ten years under the WTO, unemployment has increased everywhere in the world. The quality of present employment has often fallen. Dirty, dangerous and degrading works have become more common. Many of these jobs are precarious. More and more persons are actually forced into the informal, unprotected and unregulated economy from the formal economy, the destroyed livelihoods of small farmers and subsistence agriculture. In transnational businesses, many employees increasingly find themselves in precarious relations to the businesses for which they produce and no longer work. Their relation is determined by accident. Many transnational businesses try to distance themselves from responsibility for working conditions by outsourcing work. Everywhere in the world, people – workers, women, rural producers – and whole states are forced to abandon their hope of development and emancipation through employment.

Ten years later we are in the middle of the so-called Doha-development agenda. Were the lessons learned? Can solutions for this massive failure be expected from these negotiations? No chance. One need only look at the three main points at issue in the economic negotiations – agriculture, non-agricultural goods (NAMA) and services.

Increasing liberalization of trade with agricultural goods was to benefit everyone over the last ten years. The only winners were the corporations of global agro-business. These corporations forced the over-production and export of staple foods in a few producer countries, depressed prices and destroyed millions of jobs. This also caused the mass migration of agricultural workers and small farmers and destruction of rural family units. They stream from the rural regions into already over-populated cities or foreign countries where they are completely without rights. Promoting an intensive export-oriented agriculture systematically forced by the WTO via opening agricultural markets has led to increased dependence in the richest countries of the world on exploitation of seasonal workers and work migrants enjoying relatively weak social protection. Family-based farmers increasingly disappear. Industrialized production enterprises that frequently produce in a socially- and environmentally destructive way and are often supported with subsidies become established.

“Diversification” in flowers and other “niche products” is recommended as a solution for the developing countries faced with declining prices for agricultural raw materials. Worldwide there is more unemployment, more hunger and more food insecurity in rural areas. Those who feed people in the North and elsewhere are increasingly unable to feed themselves. Despite the urgent need for action against the global system crisis in agriculture, the genuine themes are not even on the WTO agenda.

The “breakthroughs” offered in preparation for Hong Kong threaten to worsen the situation because agriculture will be used as a trump card in the negotiations for enhancing profits of corporations from services and non-agricultural goods (NAMA). All this will remove us further from using agricultural and non-agricultural resources responsibly in satisfying human needs, not in higher corporate profits.

The NAMA negotiations will have similar effects on industrial products, fishing and forestry in the developing countries. These countries will be forced to reduce their tariffs on these goods. While this may lower the prices for these goods, this often happens at the expense of present and future employment. Fishing and forestry offer food, livelihoods and medicines to millions of people everywhere in the world. Ninety percent of fishers worldwide – almost 40 million people – work in small fishing operations; these men and women live in oppressive poverty. Another 13 million are employed in the formal forest sector. More than 1.6 billion depend on the forest for their existence (for example, gathering firewood, medicinal plants and food). The proposals of the WTO on the complete elimination of tariffs in these two sectors could have serious effects on these people through the loss of access to natural resources and their destruction. They depended traditionally on these resources.

The proposed tariff reductions will create increased international incentives for large commercial fishing rigs to fish with extremely destructive methods and fuel the future exploitation of an already seriously threatened resource. Local fishers and poor fisher communities will suffer increasingly under he effects of the dying oceans since large commercial fleets snatch away the top-grade fish. Cheap fish imports could flood coastal states that once had strong domestic markets. The local fishers would then be unable to sell their catch. This is also true for the forest sector. In estimating the effects, the European commission said developing countries with established forestries protected by high tariffs “could face significant ecological and social costs caused by under-utilization of these industries or their complete closure.”

When these cheap imports flood countries with weak industrial sectors, their industries will be wiped out causing intensified unemployment. In countries where industries can still be established, these imports will prevent forms of sustainable industrial employment that were often planned as ways to development. The negotiations will not bring about any humane employment or development but could cause mass unemployment and the destruction of livelihoods while withholding urgently necessary customs revenue. If a little employment results in a few developing countries, this will largely be at the expense of jobs in high-wage countries or industrial states. The developing countries will compete increasingly against each other (as in the textile sector). Most of these jobs will be poorly paid and offer no security.

Are services the magic formula for creating jobs? This is the fastest growing employment sector. The service agreements depend on whether governments privatize, outsource or otherwise liberalize their service sectors on the basis of irrevocable obligations under GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services). None of these measures can demonstrate success regarding employment. People either lose their jobs or their employment conditions become insecure, less trained and poorly paid. Many multinational businesses are not bound to any location and are known to migrate as soon as profits decline or fail to appear. The workers then compete for jobs as hamburger cooks or in call centers. The neoliberals argue that 100 jobs shifted from A to B are still 100 jobs. However 10 fewer jobs remain with every transfer and the uncertainty and training for jobs fall in a downward spiral. Employment befitting human beings goes to the dogs.

Jobs are also an integral element of the negotiations on services. Under the mode 4-discussions on sending people from one country to another to perform services for a time, many of these employees are subject to low wages and miserable conditions. Their homelands lose many valuable skills to the North in a “brain drain” – the result of expensive local training programs – a subsidizing of the North by the South. The North denies proper wages and working conditions to caregivers and teachers. The mode 4-negotiations simply accept the “unavoidability” of mass unemployment in the developing countries. The WTO has no mandate to deal with labor- and migration questions resulting from these negotiations. These questions should not be part of GATS. Rather long-term migration programs based on rights and offering security are necessary.

The current paradigm trade>growth>development has failed. Even the data of the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD is beginning to admit this. Under certain conditions, more trade can create growth. However we must always ask: What kind of growth, growth for whom? Today the growth of unemployment is a phenomenon known around the3 world. The current statistics about trade and domestic economic growth are meaningless indicators of true national prosperity and the well being of the people of a country (they only show the prosperity of businesses). What ultimately counts is the kind of growth and development pattern that these statistics describe and whether this pattern says something to us whether farmers and workers are on the way to proper income, humane working conditions and a secure existence or whether they face increasing poverty and insecurity.

The proposals for broader liberalization of agriculture, industrial production and services will lead to a new immense wave of unemployment and a deterioration of present working and living conditions in both developed and developing countries to court the profits of a few international corporations.

This program for massive job destruction must be stopped.

The undersigned unions and citizen initiatives call on WTO members to

1. Institute a moratorium on the current negotiations and
2. Make an extensive public assessment of the effects of the existing trade and investment rules on employment, society, culture and the environment.

The rules for international trade and investments must be judged according to a single criterion: do they create progress toward socially and ecologically sustainable economic growth, social improvement and greater prosperity for everyone? Or do they lead in the opposite direction to social and ecological destruction, mass migration and global insecurity? The judgment is certainly clear after the first ten years of the WTO! It is time to change course.