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Globalisation

WTO failure

by Monika Hellstern

In brief

Typically, people migrate for a short time and over short distances within nation states: delivery of poultry from a rural market in the Peruvian Andes.

Typically, people migrate for a short time and over short distances within nation states: delivery of poultry from a rural market in the Peruvian Andes.

International trade and migration as well as global environmental changes are marking today’s global society. According to experts, global policymakers are still far from regulating all relevant issues coherently.

It has become commonplace to state that globalisation is changing the way people live all over the world. Due to the international division of labour, groceries, electronic devices or textiles are being transported over long distances before they are sold to end consumers. Moreover, people themselves have become very mobile. According to UN estimates, some 232 million people did not live in the country they were born in last year. That is the equivalent of 3.2 % of the world population.

Political and legal rules on different levels are needed to manage the various trends. Experts agree, however, that the system of global governance is fragmented and does not deliver what is needed.

For years, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was stuck in negotiations that were launched at a summit in Qatar in 2001. Only in December last year did the 159 member states agree on the so-called Bali Package. As D+C/E+Z went to press in early August, however, the treaty, which needs consensus, had failed nonetheless because India did not sign it in due time by the end of July.

Basically the Package was the lowest common denominator and fell short of initial aspirations. Babajide Sodipo, a trade expert from the African Union, resents that the focus on development was lost: “Developing countries entered the negotiations with other priorities,” he says. Among other things, Sodipo had hoped rich nations would grant more concessions concerning agriculture.

Karl-Ernst Brauner of the WTO, however, points out that Bali Package was good in the sense of seeming achievable. He insists, moreover, that the draft agreement would have granted least-developed countries preferential treatment, unrestricted market access to all WTO member countries and exempts from customs duties.

From the EU perspective, however, bilateral trade negotiations have seemed more promising for many years. Frank Hoffmeister, a Euro­pean Commission bureaucrat, argues it allows for the inclusion of “social, ecological and labour standards” in agreements. He regards the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) the EU struck with the Caribbean Forum in 2008 as a model in this respect since the signatories committed to the core labour standards of the ILO and other internationally agreed standards as part of the treaty. Moreover, bilateral agreements can transcend the WTO’s lowest common denominators.

However, bilateral trade negotiations are not progressing fast either. The EU has been working on economic partnership agreements with regional communities in Africa for more than a decade now without any conclusive result so far. This fact was also mentioned when experts discussed global issues at the Eschborner Fachtage 2014, a conference hosted by the GIZ at its headquarters near Frankfurt in July.

Trade and migration need to be seen in context moreover. According to Dominik Ziller of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Development Cooperation (BMZ) trade is conducive to sustainable development because it can reduce absolute poverty and, accordingly, poverty-induced migration as well.

All too often citizens of rich countries do not know what migration is really about. External migration is comparatively rare, according to Cecilia Tacoli of the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development. Typical migration patterns include poor people moving from poor and remote areas to the more prosperous regions and towns of their nations. Most migration is short-term and short-distance, Tacoli says.

Climate change is adding to the migration pressures, Tacoli warns, as extreme droughts, storms and floods undermine livelihoods. Migration is thus an adaptation strategy. Policymakers cannot stop such migration, and they must not try, insists Tacoli. Her remarks show that the global environment must be taken into account too when considering trade and migration issues.

Monika Hellstern