Amidst the hustle and bustle of the WTO’s 9th Ministerial Conference in Nusa Dua, a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), both local and international, voiced their opposition to the WTO. One vocal group was the Indonesian for Global Justice, which formed a new alliance with Gerak Lawan (Indonesian Peoples Movement against Neocolonialism and Imperialism) and La Via Campesina, the global peasant movement which has more than 200 million members from around the world. Their new alliance, called Social Movement for an Alternative Asia (SMAA), aims to reject the WTO, Bali Package, and trade liberalization. The SMAA believes the 18-year-old WTO only benefits some parties, such as developed countries and large corporations. They also believe the WTO is detrimental to millions of marginal groups such as small farmers and fishermen. To show the seriousness of their actions, the SMAA coordinated some 1,000 farmers, trade unions, women, and students from more than 30 countries to protest against the WTO. The protest was held in the Renon, Denpasar, on the second day of the 9th Ministerial Conference.
“The Bali Package is a terrible deal for the developing world. We are forced to accept a legally binding agreement on trade facilitation in exchange for leaving the small farmers hungry. We reiterate our call for the WTO to get out of Agriculture,” said one of the protesters from La Via Campesina, Yoon Geum Soon, who also represented the Korean Women Peasant Association. Meanwhile, another protester from the farmers union in India spoke the same words as his Minister of Commerce and Industry, Anand Sharma, “WTO is doing nothing for the farmers. In the long run, it spells death for us. Indian farmers will never accept such a deal.”
Almost similar opinions were expressed by Togar Marbun, the Secretary General of the Confederation of Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union. Marbun confirmed to the Dekkercenter.com that overall Bali Package has a potential to threaten the well-being of workers and labourers in Indonesia. “Trade liberalization encourages rampant privatization and for developing countries, it is negative for the welfare of the labourers. Especially in countries that only have few and less powerful labour unions,” he added. Marbun expressed this view in a brief meeting with the Deputy Minister of Trade, Bayu Krisnamurthi, and some members of Ministry of Trade’s Directorate General. In response, the Deputy Minister stated that Bali Package will not reduce state subsidies to small farmers and fishermen. But it is less clear how it will affect labour issues because there is a tendency for the WTO to leave this issue up to each country.
Loud voices that oppose the WTO’s existence and policies have been heard for a long time. If the previous directors general of the WTO were not successful in changing those cynical and skeptical opinions, obviously there remains a challengefor the leadership of the WTO’s new elected Director General, Roberto Azevedo. In response to many voices of the protests, Azevedo just uttered a simple statement on the first day of the Ministerial Conference, “It is a sign that what we fought for the in the WTO is very valuable. But unfortunately, the works we’ve done in the WTO are often less well perceived,” he said, smiling. The answer still needs real proof and the proof will be the result of numerous agreements made under the WTO policies, mainly because the results concern the welfare of billions of people in hundreds countries. The voices of protest against the WTO could be a trigger to generate policies that bring prosperity to the majority of the world, and not just for the sake of the government and corporate interests.