Celebrate, Don’t Mourn, WTO Talks Collapse

The United States and European Union are trading charges over the collapse of the World Trade Organization talks, each blaming the other for the breakdown.

Both sides, and the mainstream media coverage, agree this is a bad thing for poor countries.

In fact, advocates of global justice are — rightfully — celebrating the breakdown.

The argument that the WTO negotiations — known as the Doha Round, for the place in Qatar where they commenced — will hurt the poor is that they promised to reduce rich country agricultural supports, paving the way for expanded trade from poor countries. Intensified exports is the best hope for development, runs this claim.

This is a nice story, except for two things. First, even on its own terms, this claim is not true. Second, it ignores most of what the Doha Round is about.

At the time the WTO was first adopted (it came into existence in 1995), proponents such as the World Bank made extraordinary claims about the benefits for the poor. Now, mounting empirical evidence shows them to have been false. A major Bank review earlier this year of its support for trade liberalization concludes that the promised benefits have not been achieved. The World Bank, says Yvonne Tsikata, lead author of the report, “was overly optimistic about the immediate and universal benefits of more open trade. It underestimated the constraints and local complexities involved in harnessing those benefits.” (The full report is here.)

Over the last decade, the Bank has progressively ratcheted down its claims about the benefits of trade. Unfortunately, this hasn’t affected its ongoing cheerleading for trade liberalization — and proponents of corporate globalization in the media and elsewhere rely on the Bank’s general statements rather than the underlying data.

A careful analysis by the Global Development and Environment Institute of that data shows that in fact the overall claimed gains are extraordinarily modest; that they are captured primarily by a few middle income countries (notably Brazil and China); and that many of the poorest countries come out worse.

Among the particular findings:

– All projections of income gains for developing countries as a group are modest, well under 1 percent of GDP and less than a penny-a-day per person.

– Only a few countries capture the bulk of the projected gains, with Brazil and China among the winners. Some of the poorest countries and regions, including Sub-Saharan Africa, see income losses or trivial gains.

– For many countries the loss of tariff revenues with liberalization are greater than the projected gains from a Doha agreement. India, for example, would lose nearly $8 billion in annual revenues from manufacturing tariffs, almost four times the projected gains of $2.2 billion. For the developing world as a whole, a projected gain of just $7 billion would be swamped by $63 billion in losses from tariffs on manufactured goods.

Also ignored by the pro-WTO advocates is the crucial way that WTO rules have forced rich countries to remove preferential arrangements for poorest countries (on the grounds that they discriminate against other exporters). In one notable case, the United States brought a case against the European Union’s preferential banana access arrangements for former Caribbean colonies. We generally don’t grow any bananas for export in the United States, but the US brought the case on behalf of Chiquita, which wanted European market access for its Ecuador bananas. The overall effect of such preference erosion, concludes the UN Conference on Trade and Development, is quite serious.

The key issue in agriculture for poor countries, and especially for the poorer farmers in those countries, is not whether they can gain access to rich country markets (poorer farmers generally don’t, and can’t realistically, grow for export) but whether they are protected from dumping — subsidized, below market exports from other countries into their market.

The issue of dumping and export subsidies is actually the most important one, and it unites family farmers in poor countries with those in rich nations (since the export subsidies tend to go more to corporate farms). Explains Via Campesina (the International Peasants Movement):

As a result [of WTO rules], many countries are facing a surge of cheap food imports. Local farmers cannot compete and therefore, they lose their income and livelihood. Many farmers get indebted, they have no land or lose the land they do have, and they have to migrate to the cities or abroad to make a living. In rich countries, on the other hand, agricultural policies support large industrial farms and export-oriented production. Family farms producing for local markets are disappearing everyday.

That’s half the explanation of why the WTO proponents are wrong about the purported harm to the poor from the negotiation breakdown.

The other half concerns what else was at stake in the negotiations: opening up new markets in poor (and rich) countries to multinational corporations.

Proposals were on the table to expand the WTO services agreement, so as to quite radically limit countries’ ability to regulate healthcare and other key sectors. About this, see Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch’s web page here.

Despite all the hoopla about agricultural market access for developing countries, the rich countries were also asking the developing countries to open up their markets further, exacerbating risks to the poor. They also wanted major reductions in developing country tariffs on non-agricultural products, raising what Walden Bello, executive director of Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines, called “the specter of deindustrialization.”

As always, the impacts of these proposals would most adversely affect the poor. As Friends of the Earth International explained,

For example, forests and fish and fish products are both sectors slated for complete or exceptionally high levels of liberalization in the WTO’s current negotiations. Yet worldwide, some 60 million indigenous people are almost completely reliant on forest resources for their livelihoods –- for food and fuel, medicines and materials — and some 36 million people directly employed in small-scale artisanal fishing.

And that, in sum, is why development, environment and global justice advocates believe the collapse of the WTO talks is something to celebrate.

For more details, see:

Friends of the Earth International

Via Campesina and here

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

Focus on the Global South and here

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Activism Inc.

[posted on corp-focus, July 20, 2006]

Activism Inc.

By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Young people, listen up.

For those of you seeking to curb corporate crime and violence —

For those of you seeking to counter the right-wing, corporate drift of the country —

For those of you seeking to push back against the Chamber of Commerce, the Fortune 500, and the corporate control over the two major political parties —

Three words of advice:

Read this book.

Activism Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America, by Dana Fisher. (Stanford University Press, August 2006).

Fisher is an assistant professor of sociology at Columbia University in New York.

Some people are going to be very angry with this book.

These people would be the institutionalized, bureaucratic, inside-the-beltway “liberals.”

But for the rest of us, this book is a joy.

It’s due out in a couple of weeks.

Fisher’s study finds that most of the national environmental, student and progressive groups have shut down their internal grassroots operations and outsourced door-to-door fundraising to a handful of large national canvass operations.

Fisher says these national canvassing operations are the point of entry for hundreds of young, idealistic and politically aware people.

But instead of funneling these people into a lifetime of progressive politics, more often than not the national canvass operations, run as secretive corporate top-down bureaucracies, burn their idealism and spit them out onto the trash heap of politics.

Fisher was given access to one of the major groups — she calls it the People’s Project.

She explains in a footnote that “due to my data gathering agreement with this organization, its identity will remain anonymous. Throughout the book, it will be referred to as ‘the People’s Project’ or ‘the Project.'”

The People’s Project clients include major environmental, public interest and human rights groups.

The Project runs between 55 and 75 campaign offices around the country and hires more than 275 primarily young canvassers a year — mostly in the summer months.

And Fisher is not happy with its organizing model.

“How can the People’s Project run effective grassroots campaigns that are coordinated by rootless workaholics?” she asks. “Instead of connecting canvass offices to pre-existing local progressive institutions through its canvass directors, the People’s Project chooses to move them around regularly.”

“When I asked the canvass directors if they participated in any local political or civic work outside of their jobs, most laughed at me, pointing out that they rarely had time to sleep or do their laundry, let alone volunteer or attend community meetings,” she writes.

Fisher concedes that these large national canvassing operations didn’t create the problem.

The problem was with their clients — the large public interest organizations that have little real contact with their membership base to begin with.

Or as one former adviser to the John Kerry for President campaign told Fisher: “None of these organizations can actually produce two bodies usually when they need to.”

“Given their failure to elicit action from their members, it is unclear how much actual political clout should be assigned to these national groups based on their members numbers,” Fisher writes. “Threats by these national groups’ lobbyists that their members will strike, protest or even vote according to their position on an issue could be called into question. … By outsourcing these outreach tactics, the distance between progressive Americans and politics today has grown significantly. In other words, most members recruited through canvassing do not develop personal ties to the organizations they join. True membership, in contrast, involves participation that extends beyond making a monetary contribution, including meaningful engagement at the local, regional and/or national level.”

And by outsourcing the canvass operations, the public interest groups also undermined their own recruiting efforts.

Case in point: Greenpeace USA.

At one point, Greenpeace ran its own canvass.

But then it outsourced it to a national canvass operation.


Greenpeace USA’s executive director, John Passacantando, has subsequently brought the canvass back inside Greenpeace.

“The Greenpeace canvass served as a feeder track for hungry, smart people who would one day run Greenpeace campaigns and even run Greenpeace. We lost something huge when we shut down our canvass,” Passacantando told Fisher a couple of years ago. “It is not a secret. So many of the heavyweights throughout the Greenpeace world have started in our canvass. It served an amazing purpose. And we are now tasked with finding other ways to bring people in.”

Fisher has some unkind words for Democratic operatives who outsourced the 2004 grassroots presidential campaign that parachuted hundreds of out-of-state canvassers into Midwestern states — and alienated local residents.

She compares that failed strategy with the winning Republican Party 72-hour plan that tapped into already existing local civic and political infrastructures.

Fisher also discounts the “man” and “messages” explanations for why progressives have been routinely routed by right-wing Republicans in recent years.

Waiting for the charismatic candidate to come around means waiting a long time.

And even if the leader arrives, “rebuilding civil society requires people talking and listening to each other, not blindly following a hero” — as former Senator Bill Bradley put it.

Then there is the weak message theory — this is the George Lakoff, Geoffrey Nunberg school.

Or as Nunberg puts it in the title of his new book: Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism Into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.

But Fisher says its not as much the man, or the message, as it is the members — the grassroots.

And we’ve corporatized them.

And processed them.

And disdained them.

Now, she wants to reclaim them.

“As civic and political organizations have become increasingly professionalized, the ways that they engage their members have become less personal,” Fisher writes. “Most national progressive groups do not require any actual participation from their members beyond writing checks.”

She quotes citizen activist Harry Boyte: “politics has largely become a spectator sport run by professionals with disdain for ordinary people.”

Time to bypass the beltway.

Go straight to the grassroots.

Read this book.

And then let’s start anew.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, . Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and director of Essential Action , which helped organize the tobacco awards ceremony. Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman


[posted on corp-focus July 18, 2006]


By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Everywhere you look, Big Tobacco is proclaiming, “We’ve changed.”

Number two global seller British American Tobacco brags that it has risen to 31st on the “2006 Companies that Count” listing, a British ranking of supposedly socially responsible companies.

Proclaims BAT’s Director of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Michael Prideaux, “If a business is managing products which pose a risk to health, we believe it is all the more important that it does so responsibly.”

R.J. Reynolds, which is now owned in large part by BAT, is a newcomer to the social responsibility game, but trying to catch up fast. “At the core of our beliefs is the knowledge that we produce a product with significant and inherent risks,” writes company CEO Susan Ivey in RJR’s 2006 “Corporate Social Responsibility Report.” “With that understanding, our core values and guiding principles … speak to responsible marketing, our approach to tobacco risk reduction and product stewardship.”

No company can outdo Philip Morris on this front. “By the end of the 1990s, our tobacco companies better understood the expectations placed upon them,” the company asserts on its website.

“Corporate responsibility is a core business objective,” contends Andre Calantzopoulos, CEO of Philip Morris International. “From youth smoking prevention to open discussion of tobacco issues to research into reduced risk products, we’re reshaping our company to meet society’s expectations.”

Philip Morris takes the idea of remodeling itself so seriously, it even changed its name. No longer is the parent company Philip Morris — now it is Altria.

But to get a glimpse of what Big Tobacco is actually doing (rather than saying) around the world, you need to shift attention away from the industry’s self-aggrandizing propaganda.

The industry’s “extreme makeover” was, in equal measure, mocked and exposed at the “Tobacco Industry Academy Awards,” held in conjunction with the triannual World Conference on Tobacco or Health, which finished this past weekend in Washington, D.C.

The awards ceremony was a biting parody (you can see video at http://www.2006conferences.org/26-media.php#), but unfortunately all of the nominations and awards were based on actual industry activities over the last three years.

The award recipients:

Best Ploy to Circumvent a Law: Imperial Tobacco. With Australia mandating large warning labels on cigarette packs, Imperial innovated the idea of “peel off” warnings.

Among the runners up: Philip Morris and BAT. Anticipating a tobacco advertising ban in Senegal, Philip Morris has painted entire storefronts in its familiar red-and-white. Among BAT’s nominations was for its conduct in Uzbekistan, where an analysis of internal company documents shows the company overturned legislation that banned advertising and smoking in public places as part of a deal to buy a formerly state-owned company.

Best Effort to Conceal Corporate Ir-Responsibility: BAT, for providing free mini-stalls to sell cigarettes to Sri Lankan tsunami victims.

Among the runners up: BAT again, for providing a highly publicized water tower to a town in Niger. The problem: It is a waterless water tower, with the pumps that were supposed to fill the tower not connected to any electrical source.

Best Initiative to Recruit New Smokers: Philip Morris, for a worldwide competition that brings young adults from around the world (chosen from more than a million applicants) to Marlboro Country — the U.S. West.

Among the runners up: Philip Morris, for sale in Malaysia of “kiddie packs” — packs of 14 cigarettes that are cheaper than a regular pack. A ban on kiddie packs has been delayed at industry urging.

Best Exploitation of a Special Population: BAT’s Benson & Hedges. An uncovered training video for “tobacco girls” — who approach men “young and old” on streets and at bars and offer to light a Benson & Hedges cigarette for them — shows the young women being tutored to start the day with a “good wash,” followed by careful grooming and application of makeup. A “good impression will be transferred to the brand and international company you represent,” the video instructs.

Among the runners up: Philip Morris, for hawking “Maori Mix” brand cigarettes in Israel. (Maoris are the indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand.) Confronted at the company’s shareholder meeting this past April, CEO Louis Camilleri apologized to a Maori anti-smoking activist for the misappropriation of the Maori name.

Best Industry Ally: Liu Xiang, an Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler from China, is a leading image ambassador for China’s biggest cigarette maker, Baisha Group.

Among the runners up: The Bandung Municipal Administration in Indonesia, for partnering with Philip Morris on a “school improvement” program, and U.S. President George Bush for refusing to send the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to the Senate for ratification. More than 130 countries have now ratified the tobacco treaty.

That last is the good news. For one thing has really changed about the tobacco industry. Around the world, its legitimacy is declining and a growing public health movement is imposing meaningful rules to curb industry predation.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, . Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and director of Essential Action , which helped organize the tobacco awards ceremony. Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman