Christians Criticize the WTO for 'Lost Opportunity' to Impact Poor Countries

Christians say that the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Sixth Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong was a "lost opportunity" to address the needs of the "poorest of the poor countries."
( [email protected] ) Dec 23, 2005 09:04 PM EST

Christians say that the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Sixth Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong was a "lost opportunity" to address the needs of the "poorest of the poor countries."

The global development agency Church World Service (CWS) said that the WTO Conference failed to address the concerns of most developing countries and instead focused more in favor of furthering advantages for affluent nations.

The director of the CWS education and advocacy program, Rajyashri Waghray said that domestic farm subsidies, which was "untouched" in Hong Kong, allows exported U.S. and European goods to unfairly force down the prices of cotton and basic grains such as corn and rice, which can bankrupt small farmers and devastate rural employment in developing countries.

"The wealthy industrialized countries squarely refused even to consider the global impact of their $300 billion in domestic agricultural subsidies, and only grudgingly agreed to end a mere $5 billion in export subsidies on agricultural products by 2013," he said according to CWS.

CWS openly criticizes the United States and Europe for insisting that developing countries allow rich nations to flood their markets with subsidized products, pushing them to open their markets to U.S. and European farm and non-farm products, as well as to service providers, such as banking, telecommunications and water, without reducing their own agricultural subsidies.

Meanwhile, the WTO Conference on Dec. 13-18 also brought criticisms from seventy women theologians, pastors, church and ecumenical leaders to sociologists, teachers, psychologists, political economists, and students from various faith communities and traditions, representing 27 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, and the Pacific region.

According to a letter on the Christian Conference of Asia's website, the seventy women responded to the WTO's "unjust policies," adding that they were able to critically analyze the theological, gender, racial and ethnic implications of the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

They said 2.5 billion people, the majority of which are women, rely on agriculture as their primary source of income. They said that farmers are "discriminated against, forced off their land, and poisoned by pesticides," with some even "driven to commit suicide."

"It is abhorrent that in a world of plenty, countless children die from hunger and hunger-related diseases," noting South Africa, Pakistan, and Uganda. "Rather than eradicating poverty, the AOA is a fundamentally unjust agreement," the letter said.

In agriculture, which applies to "the full embrace of food sovereignty," they suggested "corporate accountability and transparency, land rights for peoples, and the right of governments to use domestic policy tools to protect and enhance local livelihoods."

Meanwhile, they rejected the opening up of services to private owners through GATS, which they said has deprived the poor of their basic needs, such as water, health and education, learning that in Bolivia, Uganda and in many other countries, the privatization of the water systems and education has made it inaccessible to many.

"As women of faith, we believe that God created all human beings with dignity, respect and equality. We uphold the principle of life-promoting trade, which is in harmony with social justice and the empowerment of peoples and respects the diversity of global communities," the letter concluded.

Waghray did note that developing countries gained some abilities, such as limited protection from harmful liberalization for some self-designated "special products," and the ability to demand payment in the event of import surges or especially low import prices. However, the details of these protections have yet to be determined, Waghray said.

The Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director and chief executive officer of CWS, decried the "growing inequality" between rich nations and poor nations, adding that "the Hong Kong agreements" did "nothing to reverse" it.

McCullough said, "It violates the bonds of human community when billions of our fellow human beings are marginalized, oppressed, and nearly crushed under an intolerable weight of hunger, poverty, disease, and hopelessness."

The letter on behalf of the seventy women had support from the World Council of Churches, Christian Conference of Asia, Hong Kong Christian Institute, Hong Kong Women’s Christian Council, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Lutheran World Federation, Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, World YWCA, World Student Christian Federation of Asia Pacific, Association of Christian Institutes for Social Concern in Asia, Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, and the International Gender and Trade Network.