PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — Calling for the end of multilateral organizations like the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the Free Trade Area of the Americas, some 30,000 demonstrators paraded through the streets here to close the third World Social Forum.
It was a recurrent theme throughout the forum, which brought together activist and social-change organizations from around the world to network and share resources.
Participants in the forum said international trade organizations can affect entire populations without having any democratic legitimacy, since they do not have popularly elected representatives.
Many activists were looking to the next round of WTO talks in Cancun in September, concerned over new agreements that would require participating nations to open their government supply and service networks to foreign companies, and prevent them from having regulatory power over multinational enterprises operating within their borders.
“Our solution for developing countries is to raise taxes and restrictions [on international trade],” said Martin Khor, director of the Malaysia-based Third World Network.
He said that while developing countries have put more than 1,000 such proposals to the WTO, none have been taken seriously.
Giving poor countries the chance to export food products to wealthy markets has never been on the table, he said, only trade liberalization for cheap agricultural commodities produced by rich countries.
“That’s why I doubt the reforms in question in Cancun,” Khor said.
Mexican activist Ivan Polanco noted that his country was self-sufficient in feeding its population, but after NAFTA became dependent on imports for 40 percent of its food demand.
Basque farmer and Via Campesina member Paul Nicholson was more concerned with local food production than global agricultural trade.
“[The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization] estimates that 75 percent of all famines are in the rural world; access to markets will not solve this problem,” he said, and called for the rebuilding of agricultural production and culture in rural communities.
In a general critique of trading practices by rich nations, Oxfam Senegal’s Muthoni Muiu cited a study by Oxfam International that found that American cotton farmers receive US$3.9 billion in subsidies, resulting in overproduction, global price depression, and declining income for millions of developing-world farmers who count on cotton for a living.
That’s the case in the West African nation of Burkina Fasso, she said, where cotton represents 50 percent of total exports and the livelihood of more than half of the 11 million people living there.
Muiu also noted that 40 percent of Zambians have no access to pharmaceuticals due to high costs — a problem that current neo-liberal trade practices have not alleviated.
“It’s shocking that rich countries are putting commercial interests over lives,” she said, referring to a TRIPS (Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property) meeting held last November, where the United States, European Union, Japan, Canada and Switzerland opposed the free trade of generic drugs among developing countries.
Our World is not for Sale
Third World Network