For Brazil and the Poor the WTO Meeting Is a Marked Cards Game They Can’t Win

For those who have observed the WTO’s negotiation process at the ministerials in Seattle, Doha, or Cancun, it looks like an enormous and complicated game of cards.

From one minute to the next, strategies change, bets are placed, teams formed and reformed, and the rules of the game shift according to the interests of the major players.

While some players with weak hands bluff, other players underestimate the strength of their hands. But in the end the power and negotiating dynamics become clear.

The cards shuffled by the WTO are, in reality, enormously complex economic prescriptions that have repercussions on not only trade but also on the national development of each country.

These cards are not, as they would have us believe, dealt evenly and at random, but rather they are fixed by the dealer – in this case the world’s wealthiest nations: the United States, the European Union, and their allies.

Once the rules of the game have been accepted, players cannot trade in any of the cards they have been dealt. The sanctions for breaking the rules are severe and include fines, protective tariffs, and temporary market closures, among others. Poor countries face huge limitations for developing independent strategies in this game.

The objective of this game is free trade for corporations – not development. The moment a playing country sits down at the table, other objectives are automatically subordinated or even cast aside by the globalization game as defined and imposed by the WTO.

Despite the fact that the current round of negotiations is called "The Doha Development Round," in practice, development and its pillars – national industrialization, food sovereignty, social welfare and equity – are discarded. Instead, market access, liberalization, international commerce and investment, and privatization become the guiding principles.

One of the most deceitful rules is the rule of reciprocity. Generally considered a basic concept of equity and equilibrium, in the context of international trade, reciprocity becomes a way of institutionalizing permanent inequality. The reason is simple: the different nations and their productive sectors enter the game with profound asymmetries between them.

The major players remain the same and continue to play with basically the same strategies. A large-stakes player, the United States holds in its hand two aces in this game: the biggest market in the world and an impressive export capacity derived from the production of huge surpluses – for example, in basic grains. In addition, U.S.-based transnational traders control important global productive chains for manufactured products.

In the WTO, the European Union, in spite of occasional quarrels, usually plays on the same team as the United States. It shares the basic strategies of forcing open new markets for its goods, extending intellectual property rights, and transferring sectors from the public to the private realm.

At the Hong Kong meeting, the strategy of developed countries will center around four points:

1) gaining access to new markets by way of formulas that permit, in some cases, extending liberalization periods and modifying terms, but that do not allow exceptions or exclusions;

2) extending terms of intellectual property guarantees to increase royalty payments and monopoly market control for knowledge industries, particularly transnational pharmaceutical companies;

3) opening up service sectors to foreign investment and;

4) guaranteeing privileged and low-risk conditions for international investors.

The creation of the Group of 20 in Cancun (G-20) at the Fifth Ministerial has resulted in some realignment among the smaller players.

Led by countries with large emerging economies such as Brazil, India, China, Pakistan, and South Africa – and peripherally but still there, Mexico – these countries now have more substantial negotiating power.

The G-20 has remained cohesive (with the notable exit of several Latin American countries) and even gained strength since its inception in 2003 through a series of meetings under the leadership of Brazil and India.

Another player that has begun to take a stance different than that of the Group of 20 is the African Union. The African Union took a strong stand against the principle of reciprocity in its relationship with the European Union, thus representing a sharp break in the rules of the game. It is possible that the African Union could take a more radical position in the Hong Kong talks.

In Hong Kong once again, the proposals on the table fail to benefit poor countries. In this context, it is necessary to change the rules of the game.

If that is not possible, the logical reply is not to play a game where so few win and so many lose. That was the response in Seattle in 1999 and Cancun in 2003. It continues to be the only response in defense of the poor for Hong Kong in 2005.

Laura Carlsen directs the Americas Program of the International Relations Center, online at


  • Show Comments (1)

  • Guest

    Dead wrong !
    Developing countries have also huge surplus productions.
    That is why they want to export what they can export.From agriculture to textile, to car, car parts, IT and just name the product.
    Even worse, Brazil is the world^s garden but prefers to export while having hunger in their own country !

    They want more access to their production capacity exports but dont want to provide reciprocity.
    They are already in high trade surpluses with almost all nations but want more without providing more open doors.

    Brazil is defending only the ideology of export capacity countries but not the poorer countries. They buy little from them. And Brazil is voluntarily mixing up their own countr with the least developed and poorer countries. In fact the majority of poorer countries are against the group represented by Brazil, India and China. Even India does not want we go further into our reductions of agricultural subsidies because they dont want to give more access to industrial and services sectors.
    Should the world have higher agricultural prices this will put tens of millions of people in deeper poverty.

    Developing nations had the same possibilities as developed nations in the last hundred years to become developed.
    You did not. You failed miserably and now you want us to pay for your own failures.
    Developed nations governments have the same duties as developing nations governments. Namely to protect the rights and well being of their own citizens.
    In Europe there is as much unemployment as in Brazil. Why should they accept more unemployment to just please you ?

    The EU is already buying 70 % of all exports of the 50 least developed nations.

    Finally, in this report there is only critics against the EU and the US but nothing on Japan, a far closer country than the other 2 despite the fact that the EU and the US are already by your biggest trading partners and you have already huge trade surplus with them !
    But you want more from us and give us less.

    AS USUAL !

    This is why you failed miserably in the last century when time was for
    industrialization ! You concentrated your time and efforts on the wrong things : mostly agriculture, corruption, anti democracy, anti wealth equalities, lack of social reforms, injustices, lack of education and health, lack of infrastructure, impunity !

    In fact you have today what you have seeded during centuries : total failures.

    Why should we pay now at our own expenses for your own mistakes ????????

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