Put Forth at the Last Minute in Qatar Could Jeopardize
the World's Clean, Safe Water
By Maude Barlow
Article courtesy of the Globe and Mail
November 30, 2001
In a world preoccupied with terrorism and war, there
was little coverage of the World Trade Organization ministerial
meeting earlier this month in Doha, Qatar. What coverage
there was, often in newspaper business pages, recounted
that after tense negotiations around such issues as antidumping
and agriculture subsidies, the now 144 member countries
of the WTO had agreed to a new round of trade talks.
didn't get reported is that in the last-minute wrangling
over other issues, the European Union inserted a clause
into the final text that puts our fresh water at risk,
promotes the privatization of the world's water resources
and endangers international environmental treaties.
into the meeting, there was a deep divide between the
United States, Europe, Japan and Canada -- and everyone
else. The North's wealthy countries were pushing an ambitious
agenda almost universally opposed by the countries of
the South. Well into every night, negotiators struggled
with this divide.
final draft text appeared on the morning of Nov. 14, and
delegates, most of whom had not slept the night before,
saved their energy for the final fight about the timing
of the start of new issues. Only a handful of NGOs --
the few who had been able to travel to remote Qatar --
noticed that, overnight, a new section called Trade and
Environment had been added to the text. When the assembly
adopted the text later that day, the frantic NGOs couldn't
find one delegate who'd noticed this addition. Too bad,
because it may have terrible ramifications for the world.
31, iii, calls for "the reduction, or, as appropriate,
elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental
goods and services." This poses an immediate threat
to shrinking freshwater resources, as a "service"
and as a "good."
water has not yet been listed under the WTO General Agreement
on Trade in Services (GATS) as an environmental service,
several countries -- the U.S. and Canada among them --
are pushing for its inclusion. In any case, the GATS covers
hundreds of types of water services under other categories
and contains a catalogue of measures that limits what
governments can do to conserve and protect water. Canada
also wants all member countries to eliminate restrictions
on national treatment and market access to water services.
the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are
aggressively promoting water privatization in developing
countries, opening the door for huge transnational water
corporations to profit from water delivery and wastewater
treatment. Under this new WTO provision, a domestic rule
that protects water as a public service and a human right
could be considered a "non-tariff barrier" to
trade and eliminated. So could rules that limit privatization.
is clearly a "good" in the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Article 11 already rules out
any quantitative restrictions on the export of a good,
but allows tariff measures, such as taxes or dual price
systems. But the new text proposes to do away with such
export controls, making it illegal to restrict the export
of bulk water for commercial purposes.
32 (also added that last morning) says that 31, iii, must
be "compatible with" other WTO rules, particularly
the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary
Standards (SPS), which sets constraints on government
polices relating to animal and plant health, including
biological contaminants -- and the Agreement on Technical
Barriers to Trade (TBT), set up to ensure that nations
do not use "non-tariff barriers" (such as environmental
laws) in a way that interferes with trade liberalization.
means that domestic standards to protect water could be
challenged by subsuming the trade in environmental services
to these already dangerous WTO agreements.
are not the only threats to the environment in the Doha
text. Article 31, i, (also new) attempts to clarify and
codify the rules between the WTO and multilateral environmental
agreements (MEAs). But, no sooner are MEAs recognized
(a development long sought by environmentalists) than
the text exempts any country not a signatory to a MEA.
U.S., for example, has not ratified the Kyoto or the Biosafety
Protocols, and would not be bound by any WTO recognition
of their trade provisions. In fact, this new provision
would act as a disincentive for any country to sign a
new MEA; it could benefit from the environmental good
deeds of others, but be under no obligation to take action
delegates also agreed to broad new provisions on market
access, which will speed up free trade in logging, mining,
fishing and other natural resources. And the agreement
on intellectual property (TRIPS) will continue to threaten
biological diversity and conservation measures and permit
the patenting of life forms, including plants, seeds,
genes and animals.
Doha round was forged under duress; already the North
and South blocs disagree on what was agreed to. Civil
society has two years before the next meeting to discredit
this profoundly undemocratic and environmentally devastating