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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, delivered at WTO negotiations in Hong Kong

13 December 2005

I come from South Africa, the country you helped to liberate from the racist apartheid system. On an arbitrary basis, apartheid declared people from one race are superior to all others. It used the economic and political system to keep black people down, using laws and complex regulations backed by the armed might of the state.

After four decades of apartheid following over 300 years of colonialism, we finally joined the democratic world in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became our first democratically elected President.

Little did we know that we were joining a world that uses laws and complex regulations, backed by the armed might of a few states, to practice apartheid system over which we triumphed. This global apartheid, like the apartheid regime, uses its parliament such as the U.N. Security Council and the WTO, where our voices are excluded or marginalised. It establishes unfair rules that worsen our poverty and unemployment, and maintain the inequalities that exist both within and between nations.

For many years, powerful nations have used the WTO to push for unfair trade rules that worsen the situation of developing countries and benefit the rich, industrialized economies.

Today, according to the UNDP, the 500 richest individuals in the world earn more than the poorest 416 million. A billion people live on less than a dollar a day - less than the cost of a cup of coffee in many countries in the North. Every day, 30 000 children die before their fifth birthday, largely because of poverty and poor healthcare.

In Africa, poverty cannot be separated from the AIDS epidemic. In South Africa alone, five million people are infected. Yet the powerful nations that dominate the WTO want to maintain the right of big companies to block production of the generic medications that could save their lives.

In my own country, South Africa, life expectancy has actually fallen since the early 1990s because of HIV. Meanwhile two workers out of every five cannot find paid work, and millions live in poverty. Our only hope is to develop new industries and to have access to markets in the North.

We had hoped that this so-called developmental round would signal recognition by the North of the need to move the world onto a new path of fairness and equity. They promised to do something about the unfair subsidies paid to rich agricultural producers in the North.

Today we have a situation where governments in some parts of the world provided a subsidy of more than five US dollars a day for cows, while over a billion of the world's citizens live on less than two US dollars a day. In fact, it is better to be a cow in Japan being subsidized $7 per day to being a human being living in Africa.

They said that the new WTO round would shape the trade system to develop and not further suffocate the developing world. Yet their actions not their empty rhetoric will only worsen a situation where already one in three children in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from malnutrition, and while Americans spent over $10 billion on chocolates over the Easter period in 2004, only $4 billion was spent in a year on social programmes from both government and United Nation's initiatives' funds in Angola. One in two children in Angola (some 7.4 million) suffers malnutrition.

They also promised that agreements on trade in services would not undermine the ability of states to ensure universal access to basic services by the poor.

What does the WTO offer us, instead? Only pressure to destroy our own industries through complicated NAMA formulas that requires on lower tariffs; pressure to privatize public services through GATS; and continued barriers to our exports, especially in agriculture. They want lower tariffs on raw products but would increase tariffs once these raw materials are beneficiated. They want to maintain the old colonial economic relationship with their former colonies from which for centuries they have plundered raw materials from these colonies in order to build wealth for their citizens.

The WTO ministers from the rich nations are about to let fall the chance to extend a hand of friendship and solidarity to the children dying of malnutrition and AIDS in Africa and elsewhere.

The demands of the Northern powers would rule out the strong development strategies. We need to address mass poverty and unemployment - they want to maintain the status quo where cows have more value than human beings. What competition can there be between those protected by global apartheid and those who have long been the victims of discrimination and oppression?

For us, the task is clear. We must ensure that this meeting of the WTO does not go further to undermine basic services for the poor, to end our hopes of economic development, or to undermine our agriculture through unfair subsidies to the rich.

We need to challenge those pursuing trade liberalisation at the cost of sustainable development. We need to challenge the hypocrisy of powerful countries that used tariffs and subsidies to develop their own industries, but now want to deny these same policy instruments to the poor.

We will fight for a fair and developmental outcome in our discussions, in our marches, in our lobbying, in media work. We must change the agenda from market access for rich countries to development for all our people.

We know that only solidarity can help us now. Quiet diplomacy will never work. We need to march in our thousands, we need to shout, we need to show the determination of the people of the world.

Workers of Africa, workers from the developing countries and workers from the world are building solidarity and unity with the poor across the globe. We are united to say enough is enough! We did not fail in Seattle, we did not fail in Cancun, and we will not fail now.

We will not let this meeting of the WTO take forward the unfairness and injustices of the past. We will make sure, for all our sakes, that the future rules for the world economy benefit working people and the poor, not the rich and privileged.