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Activists fear WTO investment accord

Activists say the WTO's involvement won't wash Keystone

Non-governmental organisations fear an accord on foreign investment, due to be discussed at world trade talks in Mexico next month, could undermine national laws on social policy and the environment.

This content was published on August 13, 2003 - 11:02

Swiss NGOs have demanded that the accord be discussed in the United Nations and not the World Trade Organization.

Trade ministers from all 146 WTO member countries are due to gather in Cancun, Mexico, on September 10 for a four-day summit.

The meeting is a crucial staging post in talks to create a global treaty on opening up markets to international trade.

A new agreement, which aims to establish international norms for foreign direct investment, forms a controversial part of this process.

Swiss NGOs – including the Berne Declaration, Pro Natura, the Third World Network, Swiss Aid charity and the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions – said on Monday that developing countries would suffer if it was left up to the WTO to draft the accord.

“[The WTO] will not work to ensure a balance between the rights of multinational corporations and their responsibilities,” Miriam Behrens from Pro Natura told swissinfo.

She says the WTO is used by rich nations to bypass the laws of the poorer countries, and to tailor investment rules to suit their corporate needs.

“As a result, national laws [in the host country] could be overridden, for example environment and consumer laws as well as human rights,” said Marianne Hochuli, head of trade issues at the Berne Declaration.

UN suitable

NGOs said that while they were not against an investment agreement per se, they thought the UN was better suited to tackle the complete range of issues at stake.

“I think the UN would be a better forum because [this issue] is not only about trade. An investment agreement is also about social policy, environment and human rights policy, and so the WTO is not the right forum,” she said.

The Swiss government, however, maintains that it is logical for the WTO to host the talks.

“The issue is a trade matter – you don’t have trade without investment and you don’t have investment without trade,” Luzius Wasescha, chief Swiss negotiator at the WTO, told swissinfo.

“I’m sorry that despite our best efforts, the NGOs still fail to understand that the WTO is an intergovernmental organisation where private companies have no role,” he continued.

Wasecha said related social issues would still be taken into consideration during the WTO talks.

“The UN and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development have directives governing the behaviour of firms, and we’re not ruling out the possibility that a reference to these directives will be made during the drafting of an investment accord,” he said.

The investment accord is only one of many controversial issues up for discussion. NGOs say they will be out in force to give developing countries a voice when WTO members meet in Cancun next month.

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin

Cancun

The WTO is set to discuss a new foreign investment accord at next month's four-day summit in Cancun, Mexico.

NGOs are challenging the move, saying any accord will favour rich nations and multinationals at the expense of poorer countries.

They say the UN would be a better forum to thrash out such an agreement since it affects social, environmental and human rights policy - not just trade.

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