MEDIA ADVISORY – Friends of the Earth International today urged developing countries to stand their ground at a key United Nations conference focusing on trade and development [1]. After flexing their muscles during WTO Ministerial meetings in Seattle and Cancún [2] – by refusing to accept EU proposals that would have dramatically expanded both the scope and power of the World Trade Organisation [3] – developing countries now have an opportunity to demonstrate that the global balance of power is shifting in their favour [4].

Developing countries should start by insisting that UNCTAD XI includes:

  • agreement to negotiate new and binding international legislation to regulate the activities of transnational corporations [5];
  • international recognition of the G77’s existing position that the North owes an ecological debt to the South [6];
  • protection of governments’ right to protect their citizens and environment using national legislation [7];
  • recognition of people’s food sovereignty, which includes the right to protect domestic agricultural markets [8].

Friends of the Earth International Campaigner Meena Raman said:

“Now is the time for developing countries to stand united, ignoring all diversionary tactics. If they want fair and sustainable economies for all, then pride of place at UNCTAD XI must go to reversing debt, restoring democracy and restraining the activities of market-hungry transnationals.”


[1] The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) convenes a Ministerial meeting once every four years. UNCTAD XI will be held in Saõ Paulo, Brazil, 13-18 June 2004. As UNCTAD’s own website puts it, in its introduction to the 2004 gathering: “The one-size-fits-all approach to development has failed, multilateralism is in crisis, and there is a profound mismatch between the pursuit of national interests on the one hand and the broader goals of the international trading system on the other. Countries lacking the goods and services to compete in world trade have little to gain from the multilateral negotiations now underway.”

[2] The WTO’s Third and Fifth Ministerial conferences, in Seattle and Cancun respectively, both collapsed with no outcome, following negotiating battles between industrialised and developing countries. In essence, the developing countries refused point blank to sign up to negotiations on the ‘new’ or ‘Singapore’ issues on investment, competition, trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement, which were being pushed aggressively by the EU.

[3] The inclusion of these ‘new issues’ (see footnote 2) would dramatically expand the reach of the WTO. It would give transnational companies extensive access to new markets in developing countries; and restrict the ability of developing countries to control and direct incoming investment. Although all the issues except trade facilitation now appear to be ‘off’ the table (ie out of the Doha negotiating package), the EU is still pursuing them ‘plurilaterally’ within the WTO.

[4] The G90 group of developing countries is expected to announce the start of a new round of South-South only trade negotiations at UNCTAD XI. Although this is formally said not to conflict with negotiations in the WTO, the fact that this will open a country’s markets to other developing countries only, will de facto exclude EU and US interests. (However, South-South free trade could hold many of the drawbacks of international free trade.) Developing countries could also demonstrate their unity through the proposals made above.

[5] The G77 call for “binding codes of conduct for TNCs”, in Paragraph 32 of the pre-Conference Negotiating Text (Chapeaux Working Paper No 2, 25 March 2004), has been virtually eliminated from the current negotiating text, because of opposition from the US. (There is one remaining but bracketed reference to ‘accountability’ in Paragraph 90). Nevertheless, all text concerning corporations remains in brackets, indicating that this remains one of the most controversial issues on the table.

[6] UNCTAD is mandated to consider the impact of trade on development. The ecological debt which has been incurred by the countries of the North – through the importation of under-priced natural resources from the South – is therefore highly relevant. The G77 could push to include its already agreed position on ecological debt (as set out in the Declaration of the South Summit, Havana, Cuba, 10-14 April 2000).

[7] A key focus for UNCTAD negotiations centres on paragraph 8 of the current text, which concerns ‘policy space’. Developing countries are increasingly worried that international commitments are progressively stripping them of their ability to develop national policies to promote development. (However, the same concern also applies to legislation designed to protect the environment, promote workers’ rights etc. Concerns about ‘policy space’ have been raised by civil society for many years).

[8] UNCTAD XI comes just weeks before the WTO’s next negotiating deadline at the end of July. UNCTAD outcomes are therefore relevant to the negotiating dynamic within the WTO; and many trade negotiations are also taking place in Saõ Paulo on the sidelines. Key to the trade negotiations are countries’ positions on agriculture. The US and the EU seem to be attempting to divide developing countries into those with offensive interests (market access, primarily the G20) and those concerned to protect their domestic markets from dumping (G33). Thus the unity that developing countries show in Brazil – on all issues, including agriculture – could have a profound impact on WTO negotiations. The most progressive stance that countries could take on agriculture would be to promote people’s food sovereignty, which includes food security, food safety, diverse sustainable agricultural practices, and subsistence and small-scale farming.


In Brazil: Meena Raman/ Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Friends of the Earth Malaysia in Brazil, +55 21 81916457

In UK: Ronnie Hall, Friends of the Earth International + 44 (0)7967 017281