11 December 2015
The World Trade Organization’s 10th Ministerial Conference, to be held in Nairobi from 15 to 18 December 2015, constitutes a unique opportunity for States to reinvigorate the Doha Development Agenda (current trade-negotiation round of the WTO) with a view to addressing human rights concerns in multilateral trade rules.
If trade is to work for human rights and development it should contribute to the realization of the rights to adequate food, to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, to participate in cultural life, to benefit from scientific progress and its applications and to live in a clean environment. Yet, certain developed countries are now calling for the premature cessation of the Doha Round at the upcoming WTO 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi. There is no justification for defaulting on the Doha Round commitments, and such action may have a detrimental impact on human rights.
Globalization and trade can and should have a decisive role in alleviating poverty and helping sustain economic growth, but more trade cannot be the exclusive answer. Continued easing of trade flows and customs procedures may well allow corporations and investors to maximize mega profits, but it does not ensure the quality of trade or the actual creation of jobs where this is most needed. More than trade liberalization, what civil society demands are the introduction of fair and inclusive rules that would help advancing the enjoyment of human rights, whether civil, cultural, economic, political or social rights, as enshrined in legally binding instruments.
Trade rules should promote food security, access to quality health services and essential medicines, employment, and fair and equitable intellectual property policies that adequately balances the moral and material interests of authors with the right to science and culture, especially in developing countries, with a view to enabling them to achieve the realization of the right to development as well as civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. In the Doha Ministerial Declaration, WTO Member States committed to “continue to make positive efforts designed to ensure that developing countries, and especially the least-developed among them, secure a share in the growth of world trade commensurate with the needs of their economic development” (See paragraph 2 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration).
A critical component of the international trade regime is the need for fair trade rules in relation to domestic support for agricultural producers. Many small farmers throughout the developing world have been facing unfair competition from highly subsidized products exported by farmers from developed countries, which leads to the artificial depression in world food prices and agricultural dumping in developing countries. This directly causes unemployment and poverty in some sectors, in particular in the farming sector, dismantles local industries, impacts ways of productions and attendant ways of life, and triggers population migration.
In this context, the Doha negotiation mandate also stressed and prioritized the strengthening of special and differential treatment provisions under WTO agreements, which allows developing countries some exemptions from domestic support reduction commitments. It is essential to support developing countries’ efforts to progressively fulfil their obligations in the area of economic, social and cultural rights.
If the Doha Development Agenda is replaced with a new Round, it could also open the door to legitimising controversial bilateral investment treaties, as well as multilateral agreements such as TTIP, TPP, CETA, and others. Not only will it introduce toxic Investor-State Disputes Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms that undermine the States’ policy space, but above all, it will seek to impose mandatory regulations (regulatory convergence) – a process of harmonising standards – from labour rights to environmental protection; in fact, in general lowering these standards, a “race for the bottom” in human rights terms.
The WTO 10th Ministerial Conference will be the testing ground for the international community to place people before profits, to prioritise human rights above corporate rights, and to live by the vision of the United Nations as enshrined in the Preamble of its Charter, affirming the determination of “we the peoples”. Reaffirming human rights obligations in the context of global trade rules is essential to ensure that WTO negotiations and rules support development efforts to eliminate the root causes of hunger, ill-health and poverty, strengthen human rights protection and promotion and ultimately ensure that the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals are achieved.