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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 11: 99: Battle for Free Trade
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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 21:46 GMT
Roddick blasts world trade body
Seattle: The ministers and the campaigners are gathering

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The businesswoman Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, says the system of world trade is unjust, unfair and unsustainable.

The battle for free trade
In a speech she is to make on 27 November in Seattle, she condemns the role of the World Trade Organisation, which is meeting in the city from 30 November to 3 December.

More than a hundred trade ministers and heads of government are expected to attend the WTO meeting, its third ministerial conference. It is being held to initiate a "Millennium Round" of negotiations on further trade liberalisation.

'Obsessed with profit'

In her speech, Anita Roddick says the WTO is "blind to the injustice of the pursuit of profits at the expense of people".

"By default the WTO is a world government, but it is a blind government. It looks at the measurement of money, but it can't see anything else.

Anita Roddick: WTO is "blind"
"It can recognise profits and losses, but it deliberately turns its face away from human rights, child labour or keeping the environment viable for future generations.

"Businesses have to be a force for social change. It is not enough to avoid hideous evil - they must actively do good.

"If business stays parochial, without moral energy or codes of behaviour - claiming there are no such things as values - then God help us all."

Many campaign groups are expected in Seattle to press the WTO to emphasise environmental protection, poverty and human rights in its work.

One UK group, the development charity Christian Aid, says the WTO should concentrate on "making trade fairer, not freer".

Another, the London-based World Development Movement, says the interests of developing countries should be the main priority in all the WTO's discussions.

Demand for reform

The WTO general secretary, Mike Moore, says the poor world should be given priority in new talks, and the UK Government has called for a "Development Round".

But WDM says it is concerned that "without substantial reform, developing countries will continue to lose out".

Its recommendations include:
  • food produced for domestic consumption in developing countries should not be subject to liberalisation rules
  • it should not be possible to patent life forms, nor should corporations be allowed to claim ownership of traditional products
  • poor country governments should be allowed to regulate foreign investment for the benefit of the local economy
  • rich countries should not be allowed to dump their surpluses in the third world, nor to use anti-dumping measures as another form of protectionism.

The WTO is failing the poor, critics say
WDM's director, Barry Coates, told BBC News Online: "Many people in the UK are concerned about a loss of sovereignty to the European Union".

"But actually far more sovereignty has been given away to the WTO, with absolutely no mechanisms of democratic accountability."

The New Economics Foundation says it has obtained confidential World Bank documents which "admit that the WTO has failed the world's poorest countries".

Andrew Simms of NEF told BBC News Online: "If officials from the Bank and the WTO were more honest in public, we'd see that the scale of action needed to help the poorest countries is enormous"
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See also:
17 Nov 99 |  The Economy
Trade talks deadlocked
10 Nov 99 |  The Economy
Europe changes banana rules
25 Oct 99 |  The Economy
Trade talks agenda 'agreed'
15 Nov 99 |  The Economy
WTO hails China deal

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