People's Responses to the WTO: Exclusion or Inclusion?

(Edited from the original paper presented at a lecture at the Information Center for Labour Education in Taiwan, July, 2000)

Lee, Chang-geun (Policy & Information Center for International Solidarity)


Two Different Strategies

There are two strategies to the WTO in international movements: One is the strategy of inclusion, and the other those of exclusion.
The inclusion strategy is connected with so-called labour standards which was argued by AFL-CIO in Seattle, 1999. The AFL-CIO has demanded that labor standards be included as a topic at the WTO meetings. This strategy is based on the belief that labour standards introduced into the WTO system could protect labor rights against free trade and that it could make the speed of globalization slower and smoother. This is not only the official position of the ICFTU, but also the ways NGOs have traditionally responded to free trade agreements. However, the inclusion strategy was clearly proved not to be effective through the experience of NAFTA.
Nowadays, more and more activists pay attention to the other strategy, that is, the strategy of exclusion. This was initiated by farmers, firstly, around the time of Seattle Ministerial conference, 1999. As you know, after inauguration of the WTO, farmers in the Third World countries have been affected most seriously. WTO impose cutbacks of subsidy and openness of agricultural market. So, farmers especially from the Third world countries have started to demand that Agreement of Agriculture (AOA) should be taken out of the WTO. In this context, nowadays, activists argue that essential sector for human being, livelihood should be exempted from the WTO.

Inclusion Strategy Proved Abortive

Which strategy is more attractive for you? Now I will compare with each other in terms of possibility to be realized and its effectiveness.
If we consider only the reality, inclusion strategy would be better. Actually it has a long history since 1980s in NGOs' responses to Free Trade Agreements and international institutions. It was called as 'Social Clauses'. That is, NGOs intended to smoothed international (or regional) agreement on free trade and investment through Social Clauses such as Labor Standards, Environmental Standards, and Human Rights Standards. Moreover, Social Clauses were seen more attractive because new trade agreements had strong measures- for example, trade sanctions- to enforce the standards, while existing ILO had no compulsory means to do it.
The efforts to include Social Clauses in trade agreements were realized in the NAFTA(1994) and in the WTO(1995). NAFTA is the first case that labor and environmental standards are introduced as a form of sub-agreement. Those are Labor Committee and Environment Protection Committee. The WTO has also a similar structure named Trade and Environment Commission.
However, in both cases, after the introduction of labor and environment standards into the NAFTA and the WTO, they have never made any effects. In other words, those kinds of standards failed to protect labor rights and environment.
Actually, after the inauguration of the NAFTA, 420,000 jobs were disappeared and real wages were dropped by 4,400 US dollars(yearly estimated figure) in U.S. Also in Mexico, 20,000-28,000 small and medium-sized companies were bankrupted and then it resulted in the loss of 2 million regular jobs. In conclusion, AFL-CIO failed to protect its unionists interest (jobs and wages) as well as Mexican workers rights through the strategy of labor standards.
The ineffectiveness of punishment measures was proved in the case of Sprint, U.S.-based telecommunication company. The workers had petitioned the Labor Committee of NAFTA to investigate the violation of labor standards in the company. But as usual the only result was its slow response and ineffective punishment. Several years after the petition, the Committee decided to impose small amounts of fine to the company and closed the case. That's the way the standards work.

TINA: There Is NOW Alternative.

The exclusion strategy, as mentioned above, was initiated by farmers, firstly, around the time of Seattle Ministerial conference, 1999. The growing support for the strategy is based upon activists' perception that the inclusion strategy cannot be an effective response to neo-liberal globalization any more, which was well proved in NAFTA and WTO. They come to agree that neo-liberal globalization is not inevitable and more fundamental and radical approaches can be formulated.
An important turning point was Anti-MAI campaign. In October 1998, you maybe have heard about 'Cultural Exception'. This was argued by French government during the negotiation of Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). Due to the withdrawal of French Government from the table, MAI negotiation had to be stopped. I won't explain what the MAI is in this text. However, the point is that it is a kind of Constitution of Trans-nationals.
Anyway, when going on the MAI negotiation, international NGOs, social movement groups and trade unions cried out to stop the MAI negotiation, No to MAI. From radical groups to conservative environmental groups, all of them argued opposition to the MAI. Finally, as I said above, MAI was failed.
Since struggles against MAI, international social and labor movement can have considered another strategy which is different from inclusion strategy. That is, exception(or Exclusion) strategy which aims to dismantle whole agreements or institutions.
Apparently, 'exclusionists' come to obtain their citizenship in international solidarity movements. By the mid-1990s, activists who argued for the dismantling of WTO had been usually regarded as a kind of idealist. However, as the contradiction of financial globalization deepened and the inclusion strategy was found to fail to control it, the exclusion strategy began to be considered as a realistic alternative. A lot of activists realized that there was no seat reserved for people's life and basic rights in the MAI text, which was very eager to keep the business's benefits exclusively.
Two alternatives are being discussed: One is global control of capital flow and the other is 'delinking' from the world system. Both strategies are common in the dismantling of current trade and investment system and the opposition to additional negotiation for liberalization.
But, they are different in what will be the next. In order to control the WTO, the former argued that UNCTAD, presumably more progressive and relatively corporative to people's agenda, should have more power in the trade agreement negotiations. On the other hand, the latter gives more focus on the national dimension. It insists that to control rampant globalization, each nation-states restore the power to get the capital flow under control, and to make it happen, it gives emphasis on radical democracy in the national and local levels.

What KoPA Demands

KoPA's strategy on WTO also Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) is closer to the latter rather than the former. KoPA thinks the inclusion strategy has already failed to get any positive results, and also it only helps the current stream of globalization including WTO, FTA and BIT to be strengthened and expanded. Therefore, KoPA argues strongly that Agreements on essential sectors to the people including agriculture, education, health, culture, and drinking water must be taken out of the WTO.
However, KoPA also recognize the reality of power relations on international scale.
So KoPA uses short-term tactics of Postponement (or Moratorium) in parallel with exclusion strategy. This is a kind of tactics for saving-time. Actually, last year around on Seattle Ministerial Conference, KoPA demanded the delay of any additional agreements for more liberalization and openness including New Round of the WTO and BITs until a total re-evaluation and re-examination of the existing WTO treaties with the full participation of citizens, social movement organizations and trade unions have been completed, especially its effects on democracy, environment, public health care, human rights, labor rights, and women's rights.

Building People's Network

Lastly, I'd like to add some my viewpoints about how to build people's network on globalization including its instruments such as WTO, IMF and World Bank.
KoPA is composed of more than 40 NGOs, social movements and trade unions. So, at this time, you might be wondering how it could be built as a broad network even including environmental group and consumers group against the WTO. Actually, building this kind of broad network on the WTO is a current characteristic not only in KoPA but also in the area of international actions. In Seattle 1999, so many kinds of groups such as trade union, farmers group, environmentalists, AIDS activists, human rights group, and student groups were struggling against the WTO. The reason is very simple. The WTO is affecting all of them whether directly or indirectly.
There's one example. In Korea, there is a network against Genetic Engineering Organisms (GMO) which has a very close connection with KoPA. Last year KoPA organized a campaign against GMO and the WTO with this network. Many consumers group and environmental group in Korea are members of this network. What's the connection between GMO and the WTO? Actually, the WTO permits almost free trade of GMO and don't admit any restriction on its trade.
Especially U.S. demands strongly that the WTO should ensure complete free trade of GMO. However, more and more scientists and environmentalists are warning that GMO could hurt human health as well as ecological system. In this context, environmental and consumers group are getting involved in the actions against the WTO.
There's another example. If I tell you that even AIDS activists are deeply participating in the campaigns against the WTO, you are sure to be very surprised. What's the relationship between AIDS and the WTO? Please, think about it.
From these cases, we can get some ideas about why so many various groups are involved in the actions and networks against the WTO. This trend reflects that current globalization and the WTO are affecting more and more people and sectors.