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SWITZERLAND: Report Calls WTO 'Nightmare'

by Robert EvansReuters
August 11th, 2000

A United Nations-appointed study team has labeled the World Trade Organization a ''nightmare'' for developing countries and suggested the body should be brought under the U.N.'s purview.

In a report presented this week to the U.N.'s sub-commission on protection of human rights and made available on Friday, the team also dismisses the WTO's open trading rules as based ''on grossly unfair and even prejudiced'' assumptions.

The report also calls for a ''radical review of the whole system of trade liberalization'' and critical consideration of whether it is geared toward shared benefits ''for rich and poor countries alike.''

But although it echoes criticism of the trade body from Western anti-globalization groupings, the 40-page report rejects the idea many of these groupings promote of linking trade rules to human rights, labor and environmental standards.

Many ''civil society'' groups in developing countries also oppose such linkage, arguing that it would provide Western countries with an excuse to put up more barriers against goods from poorer states.

The document, a study of the effect of globalization on human rights, was written by two jurists, J. Oloka-Onyango of Uganda and Deepika Udagama of Sri Lanka.

If approved by the full sub-commission, currently meeting in Geneva, it will be presented to the annual session of the overall U.N. Human Rights Commission when it holds its annual six-week session in Geneva in March and April next year.

The rules of the currently 137-member WTO, the two authors said, ''reflect an agenda that serves only to promote dominant corporatist interests that already monopolize the area of international trade.''

Human rights, they added, were given only an oblique reference in the founding documents of the WTO, which was launched at an international conference in Marrakesh in 1994 to replace the old General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

''The net result is that for certain sectors of humanity -- particularly the developing countries of the South -- the WTO is a veritable nightmare,'' the jurists declared.

There was no comment on the report from the WTO, where senior envoys from most member states -- some 70 percent of them developing countries -- and officials of the Secretariat are on summer leave.

Many Poor Countries Queuing To Join Wto

But supporters of the open trading system which it oversees often refute such arguments by pointing to the weight of developing country membership and to the fact that at least 30 more poorer economies are queuing up to join.

They also say the dispute settlement system, which adjudicates in trade rows on the basis of the rules which all members have agreed to, has often found in favor of emerging economies in cases they have brought against big powers. In a discussion on the report, U.N. sub-commission member El-Hadji Guisse of Senegal, accused the WTO -- of which his country is a member -- of carrying out a ''second colonialization process in which the only interest was profit,'' according to a U.N. summary of his remarks.

If the U.N. were consistent, it would oppose the existence of the trade body -- which is outside the U.N. system and takes its decisions by consensus rather than vote -- whose driving motivation was ''money, domination and exploitation,'' he said.

Another sub-commission member, Yozo Yakota of Japan, said the WTO should be encouraged to enter into a relationship agreement with the U.N. so that its activities could be reviewed for compliance with international standards.

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