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Global Trade Watch E-Newsletter #37 - February 2006
NB: This is an archived newsletter. Information may no longer be current, and links to other sites may not always work.
* Editorial: WTO Decision Endangers Australia’s GM Laws
A decision last week by the World Trade Organisation’s Dispute Resolution panel has put in danger Australia’s state laws regulating genetically modified (GM) foods. The WTO has ruled that the “precautionary” moratoriums on GM crops in place in some European countries are illegal under the WTO’s “Sanitary and Phytosanitary” (SPS) Agreement.
In 2004, the United States used the WTO to challenge the European Union’s de-facto moratorium on GM crop imports. Last month, the WTO disputes panel finally produced an interim ruling, which, while dismissing most of the US’s claims against the EU, found that some elements of European GM laws and regulations were “illegal”.
The WTO panel - made up of three trade lawyers meeting in total secrecy - ruled that bans on GM crops in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg were illegal as a result of the EU’s obligations under the SPS Agreement. While the WTO ruling did not disallow import bans altogether, it did rule that such bans must be based on a scientific risk assessment.
Almost every Australian state has a moratorium on some GM crops, put in place both because of concerns about losing GM-free markets, and also because of remaining uncertainties about how safe they are for people and the environment.
But the WTO ruling makes it illegal for governments to ban the imports or development of GM crops for either of these reasons. Under the ruling, GM bans may only be put in place by governments if they have conclusive risk assessments which demonstrate the dangers of the crop *before* it is banned.
Although the GM bans are state-based, under WTO rules the federal government has responsibility for enforcing WTO decisions affected state or local governments. For instance, the WTO can rule against laws Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg even though it’s only the EU - the umbrella body for these countries - that is a signatory to WTO rules.
The WTO ruling gives the US ammunition to challenge Australia’s state-based GM moratoriums at the WTO. Following the ruling, US officials said the finding against the EU “sends an important warning to other parts of the world – particularly nations in Africa and Asia – against following the European lead in throwing up bans or partial bans against genetically modified crops”
Australians will now have to wait and see whether the WTO - an unelected, unaccountable body, which meets in secret and keeps almost no records of what is discussed in its meetings - will provide a forum for US corporations to force changes to Australia’s GM laws.
If you’d like more information about the WTO’s ruling, you can download a detailed briefing on it from Friends of the Earth here.
* World Economy Giving Less to Poorest in Spite of Global Poverty
A report from the New Economics Foundation has found that the world's poorest saw a 73 per cent drop in their share of benefits from growth in the last decade. Nef's report "Growth isn't working: the uneven distribution of benefits and costs from economic growth" shows that globalisation is failing the world's poorest as their share of the benefits of growth plummet, and accelerating climate change hurts the poorest most. The report reveals that the share of benefits from global economic growth reaching the world's poorest people is actually shrinking, while they continue to bear an unfair share of the costs. Even if global inequality did not increase, the tiny share of the poor in world income would be reflected in a similarly small share in the benefits of growth. In fact, the share of the poor dropped sharply after 1990, at the same time that global growth slowed. Between 1990 and 2001, for every $100 worth of growth in the world's income per person, just $0.60 found its target and contributed to reducing poverty for those living on less than a dollar a day - 73 per cent less than in the 1980's. Read the full report here.
* Fair Trade Job
Jaspers Coffee, Australia’s leading Fairtrade coffee company, is seeking a Fairtrade and Sustainability Manager. This is a diverse and challenging role extending to all aspects of our business operations. Your primary responsibility will be to act in a marketing and sales capacity to drive growth in our Fairtrade coffee lines. This is a full-time position, reporting to the Director. The ideal applicant will bring strategic vision to the role. They should be a competent public speaker and self starter with a commitment to ethical business principals and a hands-on approach. Request Position Description from [email protected] or fax 03 9416 2283. Deadline for application Friday 3 March 2006 5:00 pm
* Bechtel versus Bolivia: THE PEOPLE WIN!
The people of Bolivia have forced US corporate giant Bechtel to withdraw a US$50 million claim for compensation after it was forced out of running privatised water companies in Bolivian cities. The water revolt in Cochabamba, Bolivia, began six years ago when people in Bolivia refused to bow to the demands of Bechtel for more profits and control over their water. After months of popular protest the company was forced out of the country. Licking its wounds, Bechtel filed a $50 million lawsuit (for claims of lost future profits) against the government of Bolivia in the World Bank court, despite the fact the World Bank forced the water privatization model on Bolivia in the first place. Now, six years later the battle of Bechtel versus Bolivia has ended with a victory for the people! Bechtel formally abandoned its legal effort to take $50 million from the Bolivian people. Faced with protests, barrages of e-mails, visits to their homes, and years of damaging press, Bechtel executives finally decided to surrender, walking away with a token payment equal to thirty cents. This retreat sets an important global precedent. More.
* Chirac Recalls Asbestos-Laden Ship from India
French President Jacques Chirac on 15 February ordered the decommissioned French aircraft carrier Clemenceau back home, after the country's top administrative body ruled that the warship contained too much asbestos to legally be sent to India for dismantling. The Clemenceau, which had already been moored outside Indian territorial waters as courts in India deliberated over whether to let it in, will now be towed back to the French naval base in Brest, where it will remain until a solution is found for its disposal. Environmental groups, which had lobbied against sending the ship to India on the grounds that Indian shipbreakers lack the safety equipment necessary to deal with cancer-causing asbestos, hailed the decision as a victory for efforts to halt the export of hazardous wastes to developing countries, as well as for Indian workers. More.
* Please email in your upcoming events!
* Ban the Terminator!
Terminator seeds are genetically engineered to be sterile. They have been developed by the multinational seed/agrochemical industry and the United States government to prevent farmers from saving and re-planting harvested seed.
Terminator has been universally condemned because of its serious potential impacts for farmers, Indigenous peoples, food security and biodiversity. The technology has no benefits for farmers. Instead, it is designed to transfer wealth from farmers to large agribusiness by preventing farmers from saving and re-using harvested seed.
Terminator has not yet been commercialized or field-tested but tests are currently being conducted in greenhouses in the United States. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) currently has a de facto moratorium on field testing and commercial use of Terminator (officially known as Genetic Use Restriction Technologies – or GURTs).
But the de facto moratorium on Terminator technology is under threat due to the lobbying by the Australian Government. From 20th – 31st March 2006, the Terminator moratorium will be up for discussion at the 8th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Brazil. In the lead up meetings, the Australian delegation played an aggressive role lobbying to undermine the defacto ban on Terminator. Now is the time to send a clear signal to the Australian Agriculture Minister that Australians support a ban on Terminator Technology.
* WORLD TRADE ORGANISATION NEWS *
* 'Striptease' summit called to save trade talks (Feb 22) - Six of the leading players in the long-running WTO global trade talks are to meet in London next month for what is being billed as a "collective striptease" to unblock deadlocked negotiations through a series of mutual concessions. More...
* America's masterplan is to force GM food on the world (Feb 13) - The reason the US took Europe to the WTO court was to prise open lucrative markets elsewhere. More...
* WTO Biotech Ruling Reveals Special Interests, Say Critics (Feb 8) - A World Trade Organisation decision that called European safety bans on genetically modified food illegal under its global trade rules could usher in a new phase of potentially hazardous "Frankenfoods" worldwide and further erosion of local protections, say environmental and advocacy groups. More...
* Trade secrecy (Jan 25) - The growing intimacy between business and political leaders is leaving poor countries on the sidelines of the world trade game. More...
* BILATERAL AND REGIONAL FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS NEWS *
* Tripping up TRIPs debates (Feb 24) - Access to medicine is at the forefront of multilateral debates surrounding the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs). This paper argues that bilateralism allows the United States to circumvent these debates and to set standards that serve and protect the pharmaceutical industry. More...
* Primus goes above John Howard's head (Jan 30) - In mid-December last year Primus Telecom sent a letter to the United States government, complaining about the state of telecomms regulation in Australia. In the letter Primus called on the US to pressure the Australian government to "regulate Telstra in a manner that keeps the Australian telecommunications market open to fair and effective competition from US and other carriers". The US could do this, Primus suggested, by forcing Australia to live up to obligations which came into force in 2005 under the two nations' Free Trade Agreement (FTA). More...
* WORLD BANK / IMF NEWS *
* World Bank's New Social Standards Slippery to Enforce (Feb 22) - Companies that borrow from the World Bank's private sector arm will be required to comply with a new set of environmental, labour and social guidelines that the lender says will make businesses more accountable, but which watchdog groups have already decried as lax and vague. More: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=32261
* BoE Chief Urges Radical Shake-Up of IMF (Feb 20) - Governor of the Bank of England calls for replacing the IMF with a new organization that works more independently from national interests. Contrary to the IMF's primary mission of lending money to countries in need, the new organization would focus on the economic effects of one country's policies on others. Nevertheless, shutting down the world's biggest financial institution will hardly find sufficient support among rich countries that enjoy their influence in IMF's "expensive micro-management." More...
* Breaking Ranks at the World Bank (Feb 17) - After years of promoting market deregulation, the World Bank finally admits the limited effects of these policies on reducing poverty. According to a World Bank report, Latin America's high poverty and inequality can explain the region's bad economic performance over the last few years. The report encourages governments to assure a more equal income distribution. However, it remains unclear if the World Bank will back up its new thinking with real action. More...
* World Bank Slammed for Retreating on Whistleblower Protections (Feb 11) - The image-driven anti corruption campaign of World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has neither improved the transparency of the Bank, nor provided sufficient protection for internal whistleblowers. This article calls on the World Bank to publish a report on whistleblower protection grievances within the institution carried out by the Government Accountability Project. More...
* OTHER GLOBAL TRADE NEWS *
* Farmers must not carry can (17 Feb) - For weeks now, the nation has been in thrall to the daily revelations by the Cole inquiry of bribery, corruption and other possible illegalities perpetrated by AWB officials in Iraq under the United Nation's Oil for Food program. But there is a real danger that we are about to throw out the wheat with the chaff. More...
* Growing dissent (Jan 23) - Whatever the issue, whether it is poverty, unemployment or an ailing environment, we are constantly told that growth is the answer. But the latest evidence contained in our new report says the opposite. Growth isn't working reveals a double dynamic of failure. Firstly, the share of economic benefits from growth reaching the poorest is drying up. At the same time, the poorest are paying a disproportionately large share of its environmental costs. More...
* The Unocal Settlement: Implications for Developing Law on Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses (Sept 2005) - Unocal reached a settlement with Burmese villagers following litigation alleging human rights abuses in construction of a gas pipeline in March 2005. The lawsuit had proceeded further than any other litigation brought under the Alien Torts Claims Act (ATCA) and signifies new hope that transnational corporations will be held accountable for human rights violations. More...
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