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The Treaties - 12 - Alternative Treaty on Trade and Sustainable Development


1. International trade should be conducted with the objective of improving the well-being of people, whilst recognizing the need to promote socially just and ecologically sustainable development and prudent resource management, in accordance with the precautionary principle, transparency and participatory democracy.

2. Current negotiations such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative perpetuate the predatory model of development which damages the environment, promotes unlimited consumerism and further impoverishes the majority of the peoples in all countries. International trade should be part of sustainable development strategies that guarantee the fair distribution of wealth, the self-determination of peoples and participatory democracy. Economic integration should be an instrument of the peoples aiming at relationships that are not hierarchical but that are politically, economically and culturally complementary. The strengthening of multilateral relationships between nations must be based on the principle of equality.

3. Compensation, working conditions, land use and the exploitation of natural resources must be directed towards sustaining socially and ecologically balanced communities. Comparative advantage must not be pursued by exploiting people and nature in inhumane and unsustainable ways.

4. External debt has become an instrument of political domination, used as leverage by creditor countries to impose the liberalization of the economies of debtor nations. The effective loss of sovereignty over their national policies has resulted in increased poverty and ecological degradation. Debt cancellation and the retrieval of national sovereignty based upon democratic principles is indispensable to socially just and ecologically sustainable development.

5. Improving the terms of trade of developing countries, eliminating distortions caused by unfair trade policies and preserving the right to enact fair policies are important prerequisites for achieving sustainability locally and globally. More specifically, this would require:

  1. the elimination of export dumping
  2. reduced tariffs in developed country markets as well as the elimination of tariff escalation on products of export interest to developing countries
  3. the elimination of trade distortions that inhibit sustainable development such as lower labor and environmental protection standards.

6. Fair policies include health, other social and environmental standards as well as financial mechanisms enabling countries to implement standards; the enforcement of those standards and those subsidies that lead to sustainable natural resources extraction and production methods; and the use of quantitative import and export restrictions as well as domestic and multilateral cooperative policies to manage production and trade in natural resource products as required to ensure food security, sustainable land use and sustainable agriculture.

7. Environmentally and socially destructive agricultural trade practices must be eliminated through open, balanced, non-discriminatory, multilateral negotiations. Democratic forms of land ownership, use and access are central to the creation of sustainable food systems and rural communities. Food production and consumption systems cannot depend on market forces. The distance and relationship between consumers and producers has to be narrowed. A full understanding of the whole ecological, economic and social system of agricultural production, distribution and consumption is a pre-condition to sustainable agriculture. The right to food encompasses not only material aspects such as quantity, access and quality but also cultural aspects related to food production deriving from sustainable rural areas and communities.

8. The patenting of intellectual property, which by definition grants private ownership to discovery and invention, nullifies collaboration and the sharing of knowledge. In order to address issues of intellectual property while preserving the rights of traditional societies using non-patentable living resources, all patenting of biological resources and life forms should be halted. The existing international laws of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) under the Paris Convention framework should be recognized. In addition, existing formal and informal rights and responsibilities of local communities to biodiversity and biological resources, along with their contribution to the improvement and maintenance of biodiversity, should be balanced, recognized and valued. Trade mechanisms that reduce or restrict the free flow of ideas and technologies necessary for the protection of the environment and health must be eliminated. Mechanisms such as compulsory licensing ensure nations' rights to use products with broad social value; these rights must not be compromised by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) or any other negotiations.

9. Communities, states and nations have the right to set health and other social and environmental standards as well as development priorities as an expression of the desire of societies to protect their present and future well-being. This right must not be considered an unfair trade barrier if principles of non-discrimination, transparency and proportionality are respected. A test to determine if a policy or standard is a trade barrier is whether its effect is to discriminate against a product or a process to protect in an unjustified way domestic producers or to favor the producers of one country over another. The burden of proof in such a case must be placed upon the challenging party to demonstrate that a particular policy or standard is an unfair trade barrier.

10. People have the right to full access to all scientific information. Environmental impact assessments, when conducted transparently, are an essential tool in evaluating the wisdom and fairness of proposals for multilateral agreements and in periodically reviewing their effects. International health and other social and environmental standards should be a global floor, but not a ceiling. There are two steps to any standards setting process: assessment of risk and management of risk. The role of science is to inform the public on the nature and extent of the risk, but the decision about what level of risk to accept must be made by the public through a transparent and democratic process. Financial and independent technical assistance must be available to enable all countries to meet minimum international standards in accordance with the precautionary principle.

11. Decision-making processes should rely primarily on participatory democracy and not market forces. Bilateral and multilateral institutions must be created democratically and designed primarily to promote social, economic and environmental sustainability. Recognizing that new global rules must be adopted to assure a minimum level of standards worldwide for such critical issues as environmental protection and human rights, global regimes and international institutions must be based upon fully democratic policy making, decision making and dispute resolution processes. Full democracy depends upon the implementation of processes based on principles of subsidiarity - that decision making take place at the lowest unit of political organization possible as well as at the highest level necessary - transparency, accountability, equity, full information, and the full participation of civil society. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and peoples' organizations must have the right to strategically mobilize the civil society and use their vote, political and consumer power to make pressure at all levels to influence international decision making.

12. Conflicts between the provisions of international trade and environmental agreements must be settled on the basis of maximum protection of the environment and the best means to achieve socially just and ecologically sustainable development. Dispute resolution mechanisms must guarantee transparent and competent independence. Dispute resolution must be conducted with transparency and subject to fully democratic processes. Institutional diversity could allow a wider variety of social, political and cultural programs to meet a wider variety of needs. Experimental international institutions should not become permanent bodies until a full assessment is made by all interested parties.

13. Trade in armaments should be prohibited. States should comply with mandatory arms transfer registration, bar transfer of weapons prohibited under international law (weapons of mass destruction), and establish an international agency under United Nations auspices that would be responsible for monitoring, regulating and eliminating the international arms trade.

14. Transnational corporations must be regulated by open, balanced, non-discriminatory multilateral mechanisms conducted with transparency and subject to fully democratic processes.

15. The Draft Final Act of the Uruguay Round of the GATT and the GATT's February 1992 Trade and Environmental Report discuss environmental regulations in terms of their functioning as barriers to trade; they also support the broadest deregulation of transnational corporate behavior. In addition, the Draft Final Act proposes expanding and institutionalizing the authority of the GATT as the Multilateral Trade Organization (MTO) with obligatory review mechanisms and binding dispute resolution mechanisms overriding national standard-setting processes. Because the GATT and the proposed MTO are not currently constituted to strengthen environmental protection or socially just and ecologically sustainable development but, instead, to anticipate trade-distorting impacts in order to minimize potential regulation, civil society and governments should work to replace the GATT with a fair, transparent, participatory and democratic alternative.

Therefore, We Pledge:

16. To work to replace GATT with an alternative International Trade Organization (ITO) designed with a participatory and democratic structure ensuring transparent, accountable and equitable decision making in accordance with the public interest instead of the corporate interest. This will ensure that the ITO develops social, environmental and other regulatory policies for global fair trade and sustainable development including enhanced preferential terms for developing countries and equitable resource transfers between countries. Among the policies that a fair ITO would address are commodity agreements and the terms of trade; fair compensation and healthy working conditions; allocation of revenues from environmental taxes and tariffs to enable socially and environmentally benign production; the elimination of trade in armaments and toxic waste; regulation of the restrictive business practices of transnational corporations; macro-economic policies including currency exchange rates and debt; and the role of other global institutions including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Finally, the ITO would respect the right of national democratic decision making in so far as it does not result in unfair practices, and as it strengthens cultural diversity.

17. To support alternative models of international trade based on cooperatives of producers and consumers and federations of cooperatives working together to avoid multinational enterprise in commerce between countries of the North and the South.

18. To cooperate with the action plans of the other work groups of the International NGO Forum including those on forests, biodiversity, climate change, sustainable agriculture, militarism, debt and transnational corporations.

19. To share information; to cooperate with the broadest possible network of community-based organizations; to join the electronic communications network as promptly as possible; to develop a common bibliography; to develop a common research agenda and cooperate in conducting and sharing the research; to collaborate on joint documents and develop collective agreements; to promote these collective agreements through education and cooperation; to lobby our respective national and local governments in support of these collective agreements; to develop and participate in regional and international forums among NGOs as well as consumer and producer groups after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED); and to draft a comprehensive document defining our principles, our analysis and our objectives in support of our future campaigns.

20. To internalize these objectives in the work of our own organizations and networks and to commit ourselves to the common agenda and responsibilities of this treaty.


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