Africa draws red lines on the sands of the WTO ministerial

4 January 2016 by Yash Tandon


At the ongoing WTO Ministerial in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa must be prepared to accept no deal than accept a bad one. It is time for progressive forces in the Global South to act in peaceful non-violent resistance against the injustices of the Empire and its cynical deployment of the WTO as a weapon of war against the people of the world for the benefit of the small, corrupt, coterie of mega-corporations for whom profits come before humanity.

As we approach the final lap of the negotiations leading to the MC10 of the WTO WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

, it is time to take stock of the situation. It is time to consider options before Africa and the developing countries as they confront the Empire in the Green Room. It is time to remind our governments of their responsibility to their citizens, and to suggest that a NO deal is better than a BAD one. They might want to consider walking out of the Conference, as they did at Seattle and Cancun, if they come under duress from the Empire to sign a BAD deal.

For the Cotton-4 countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali – that have been treated most shabbily by the United States for the last 12 years, it is time for them to leave the WTO: they have gained nothing from their membership. For the rest of Africa, it is time to walk out of the MC10 if their brothers and sisters in the C4 continue to be humiliated and slighted. For the larger community of civil society in Africa and the Global South, it is time to consolidate our bonds of solidarity with justice oriented civil society and NGOs within the womb of the Empire. It is time to act in peaceful non-violent resistance against the injustices of the Empire and its cynical deployment of the WTO as a weapon of war against the people of the world for the benefit of the small, corrupt, coterie of mega-corporations for whom profits come before humanity.


The following is only a template to guide where and how the civil society and the NGOs might take positions on various issues. There are a colossal number of issues under negotiation – issues within issues; and sub-issues within issues – in this labyrinthine façade of the WTO. Walking through this complex and convoluted merry-go-round – which is what I have done ever since the first WTO Ministerial in Singapore in December 1996 – I have learnt one thing: do not give up hope - not to reform the WTO for the WTO is unreformable - but hope in the spirit of people’s resistance when they have decided to confront the violence of the system.

To make it simple, the following diagram provides a kind of compass, a road map. At the top are two issues that constitute the Red Lines. The developing countries should be ready to walk out of the Conference if the Empire crosses these red lines. Below it are a host of contentious issues. These are ‘Sectoral’ issues with two columns – the priorities of the people contrasted with those of the WTO. The latter speak in the technical language of logarithms and coefficients, using obscure concepts beyond the understanding of the ordinary people. The people prefer the simple language of discourse.

Two Non-negotiable Red Lines

  1. Reaffirmation of the DDA
  2. No New Issues

Contentious Sectoral Issues
Sectors: Peoples’ Priorities: WTO’s priorities:
Food & Agriculture Food sovereignty Market access
Industry Industrial protection Free trade – no protection
Etc. Etc. Etc.


There are two non-negotiable issues: One is a reaffirmation of the DDA. [1] However, the Empire has a different idea; it wants to end it, ‘conclude’ it. Once the DDA is set aside, the Empire would start a virtually open-ended new Round that might be called ‘the Nairobi Round’. In the draft Nairobi Ministerial Declaration the paragraphs for reaffirming the continuation of the DDA negotiations as proposed by the African Group, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Ecuador, and Venezuela are placed in square brackets at the insistence of the Empire. Those brackets must be removed.

The second is the rejection of the inclusion of ‘new’ issues on the WTO agenda. These include the four ‘Singapore’ issues: transparency in government procurement, investment, competition, and trade facilitation. The developing countries had opposed these on the grounds that they are not trade issues. But in November 2014 they yielded ground on the issue of trade facilitation; so now three Singapore issues remain.

But the Empire wants not only to get these three within the WTO ambit but to add some more ‘new’ issues. The word ‘new’ is an undefined concept; practically anything can go under its cover – such as Genetically Modified Organisms Genetically Modified Organisms
Living organisms (plant or animal) which have undergone genetic manipulation in order to modify their characteristics, usually to make them resistant to a herbicide or pesticide. In 2000, GMOs were planted over more than 40 million hectares, three quarters of that being soybeans and maize. The main countries involved in this production are the USA, Argentina and Canada. Genetically modified plants are usually produced intensively for cattle fodder for the rich countries. Their existence raises three problems.

- The health problem. Apart from the presence of new genes whose effects are not always known, resistance to a herbicide implies that the producer will be increasing use of the herbicide. GMO products (especially American soybeans) end up gorged with herbicide whose effects on human health are unknown. Furthermore, to incorporate a new gene, it is associated with an antibiotic-resistant gene. Healthy cells are heavily exposed to the herbicide and the whole is cultivated in a solution with this antibiotic so that only the modified cells are conserved.

- The legal problem. GMOs are only being developed on the initiative of big agro-business transnationals like Monsanto, who are after the royalties on related patents. They thrust aggressively forward, forcing their way through legislation that is inadequate to deal with these new issues. Farmers then become dependent on these firms. States protect themselves as best they can, but often go along with the firms, and are completely at a loss when seed thought not to have been tampered with is found to contain GMOs. Thus, genetically modified rape seed was destroyed in the north of France in May 2000 (Advanta Seeds). Genetically modified maize on 2600 ha in the southern French department of Lot et Garonne was not destroyed in June 2000 (Golden Harvest). Taco Bell corn biscuits were withdrawn from distribution in the USA in October 2000 (Aventis). Furthermore, when the European Parliament voted on the recommendation of 12/4/2000, an amendment outlining the producers’ responsibilities was rejected.

- The food problem. GMOs are not needed in the North where there is already a problem of over-production and where a more wholesome, environmentally friendly agriculture needs to be promoted. They are also useless to the South, which cannot afford such expensive seed and the pesticides that go with it, and where it could completely disrupt traditional production. It is clear, as is borne out by the FAO, that hunger in the world is not due to insufficient production.

For more information see Grain’s website :
(GMOs), monopoly rights of global corporations, the movement and mobility of refugees, religious practices that hinder trade – really anything. ‘New issues’ is a veritable Pandora’s Box. [2] But why would the Empire want to bring these under the WTO ambit? Can’t they have these rules in regional agreements – like TTIP and TPP? [3] Yes, they can; but the added advantage of bringing them within the WTO is that the WTO has teeth – those countries that ‘violate’ the WTO rules are subject to the WTO judicial process and sanctions, which constitute legalised acts of war. This tightens the Empire’s noose around the necks of the countries of the South.

The point of this argument is that the new issues should be kept as far away as possible from the WTO.


On Sectoral issues, here is a partial list of issues made contentious by the Empire’s refusal to accept the ‘development’ content of the Doha Round demanded by the people of Africa and the Global South:

  1. Strengthening of special and differential treatment;
  2. Implementation issues leading to improved WTO rules;
  3. US-EU agricultural subsidies effectively disciplined and reduced/eliminated;
  4. Cotton subsidies (export + domestic) to be eliminated or very drastically reduced;
  5. New Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) for developing countries that is effective, simple to use and truly curb import surges (including for FTA products);
  6. In services, progress in market access for movement of service providers (Mode 4) enabling developing countries’ service providers more access to developed countries;
  7. LDCs to have effective duty-free quota-free access to developed countries;
  8. Genuine SDT component as central to any new market access negotiations /outcome (agriculture, NAMA, services);
    • LDCs exempted from market access obligations;
    • Agriculture: strong Special Products (SP), effective Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM),
    • NAMA: flexibility for developing countries and fulfillment of the ‘less than full reciprocity’ principle;
    • Services: development principles of GATS to be maintained, benefits to developing countries in all modes especially mode 4.
  9. Permanent solution in regard to public Stockholding for food security purposes;
  10. Delivering on issues in the Bali Package where legally binding outcomes could not be achieved at the 9th Ministerial Conference.


Look around and identify yourself among the people in the ‘COMESA ground’ and the ‘Uhuru Park’ – open spaces where the NGOs would be located for the MC10. Talk to one another and you’ll discover that peoples’ priorities are wide ranging, and not all necessarily related to trade. They have concerns about people’s livelihood, welfare, employment, human rights, trade union rights, water conservation, health of rural people deprived of medicines – literally hundreds of legitimate concerns. The problem arises when people think that the WTO can address their various concerns and help them. That is not only an illusion, but a dangerous one. Why? Let me explain.

Suppose you believe that workers all over the world should have decent wages to keep them and their families financially secure. How can you possibly oppose this? So you bring the issue to Nairobi at the WTO MC10, and you carry placards demanding ‘fair wages’ for all. That’s fine … as long as your concerns do not get into the WTO remit as ‘trade issues’. Why not? Because a number of things can happen. You could find yourself, unexpectedly, in alliance with, for example, General Motors. The GM guys will say that they agree with you; workers should get ‘fair wages’. At GM they do; but next door Uhuru Car - a small locally owned auto company – pays low wages to their workers and this gives it a ‘competitive advantage’ over GM. This is not fair, Mr. GM tells you. Well, caught up between GM and Uhuru Car what line would you take? UC cannot afford to pay high wages: would you want the Kenya government to close down UC so that GM pays the workers a decent wage, and in return, it now enjoys a monopoly of the auto market in Kenya? Think about it; the matter is not as simple as you might believe.

Consider further that outside the UC factory under a tree a group of women are preparing a meal of ugali na nyama for the workers when they break for lunch. General Motors complains to the government that under the WTO rules, food should be prepared under environmentally clean conditions, and that they have a contract with Walmart to provide such food in their factory canteen. What line would you take - in favour of GM and Walmart or of Uhuru Car and the mothers of Kenya? A difficult choice, you must admit.

Let us take a broader picture on food security and agriculture. The Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum (KSSFF) may have placards around the ‘Uhuru Park’ reading:

  • Remove WTO Obstacles to Food Security!
  • Permanent Solution for Public Stockholding Now!
  • Let us invest in our own small farmers!
  • Stop Dumping!
  • Strong Special Safeguard Mechanism to Protect Farmers!

You would agree that these are reasonable and fair demands. But the WTO is a war machine; the issue of ‘fairness’ is not part of the language of war. The Empire has already worked out golden rules for its farmers legitimised by the WTO system. European governments, for example, provide literally billions of Euros of ‘green’ subsidies (subsidies to sustain the rural environment) to their farmers enabling them to sell canned baked beans in the Nairobi supermarket at a price even cheaper than Kenya farmers’ cost of production. For some WTO-related technical reasons (such as AMS, de minimis, Blue Box, OTDS, and product-specific limits), and also for lack of finances, Kenya is not able to provide ‘green’ subsidies to its farmers. That’s where the issue of ‘fairness’ ends. It is a cul de sac – a dead end.

This does not mean the KSSFF should not carry the banners with the above slogans; they should. But, the matter cannot end there. So what else can the KFFFF do? What can the Via Campesina do?

Take another example: On December 1, 2015, at the WTO in Geneva the Empire agreed to a ‘permanent solution’ for public stockholding programs for food security purposes in the developing countries. Yes, but there was a catch. Nothing is free or fair in the Empire of the WTO. In return for this ‘concession’ the Empire demanded that the developing countries put ‘a financial cap on the market price support (MPS) programs’. India said that this was preposterous and not acceptable. It said that the public stockholding programs are vital to developing countries which have a large number of people dependent on agriculture. Millions of farmers in the developing countries are not only in the low-income and resource-poor category but would need governments to assist them in marketing their produce. How can the Empire demand ‘a financial cap’ to withhold the developing countries to support their financially stressed farmers?


On 10 June 2003, at a meeting of the WTO’s General Council, Burkina Faso, on behalf of the Cotton Four (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali), raised the issue of the serious damage caused to their economies by America’s trade-distorting cotton subsidies. Most analysts agree with the C-4 that the US’s cotton subsidies are trade distorting: they result in at least a 10 percent reduction in global cotton prices. In the C-4, approximately 900,000 farm units engaged in cotton production provide employment to 7 to 8 million farmers, supporting the livelihoods of the 10 to 13 million people. Cotton also provides employment to workers in the associated agro-input, transportation and transformation industries. [4]

It is now past 12 years. On December 1, 2015 (last week as I write this), the C-4 raised the issue – a hundredth time – during the WTO negotiations. For the hundredth time, the US rejected the demand (request?) of the C-4 that the US stops giving subsidies to American cotton farmers. And guess what Azevêdo, the DG of the WTO, did? He did not support the C-4, saying instead: ‘delegations have moved into a text-based negotiation … including its list of products of interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. .’ And that’s where the matter ended. (See: SUNS #8152, December 1, 2016]. The C-4 will send delegates to the MC10 in Nairobi; go and talk to them; ask them what, in the name of solidarity, you can do for them.


  1. Beware of the duplicitous algorithmic language of the WTO and the technical experts; they hide more than they reveal the existential reality of poor farmers, exploited workers, and oppressed nations of the so-called ‘One World’ we live in.
  2. Beware of the traps you could fall into by seizing on single issues of your legitimate concerns without locating these in the wider nexus of geopolitics, and the unceasing trade war between the Empire and the Global South. Unwittingly, you could become an ally of the global corporations in the name of ‘free’ or ‘fair’ trade.
  3. Prepare to demand of your governments that their primary responsibility lies with their people, and if it is necessary to walk out of the conference, walk out they must.
  4. In the draft Nairobi Ministerial Declaration the paragraph for reaffirming DDA as proposed by the African Group, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Ecuador, and Venezuela is placed in square brackets at the insistence of the Empire. (This is as of 10 December). Those brackets must be removed.
  5. Prepare to join hands in solidarity with hundreds of civil society organisations and the NGOs from around the world who share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. the same vision of the world as you do.

Source: Pambazuka


[1See the previous blog on why the DDA is significant: “Resisting WTO’s Culture of Terror and Impunity” -

[2In the Greek mythology the Pandora’s Box contained all the evils of the world.

[3TTIP = Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; TPP = Trans-Pacific Partnership.

[4See my earlier blog in September:



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