206 Civil Society Groups Call for a New System of Multilateral Trade Rules

Release: September 27, 2021

Contact: Deborah James, djames@cepr.net   Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network


At the Public Forum of the World Trade Organization (WTO) this week, Civil Society Demands a “Turnaround at the WTO” in advance of the 12th Ministerial Conference

(Geneva) Today, 206 major civil society groups – including global union federations, development advocates, women’s groups, consumer organizations, and environmental groups – representing millions of people from more than 170 countries delivered a statement “Turnaround: New Multilateral Trade Rules for People-Centered Shared Prosperity and Sustainable Development” - one of the most detailed policy statements ever, from such as large group of organizations - to members of the WTO. The statement was coordinated by the Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network and is available in English, French, and Spanish.

In the statement, they called for “a new vision for multilateralism [which] is necessary in order to create the necessary jobs, infrastructure, and services that are essential to achieve the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], and also to safeguard our planet for future generations.” Civil society organizations will be taking their messages to negotiators in Geneva this week through a dozen events on these issues at the WTO Public Forum, which can be accessed for free virtually here.

Civil society, and over 100 governments around the world, have called on the WTO to focus on the urgent need to end the global Covid-19 pandemic by ensuring access to vaccines, treatments, and tests for all, by ending the “vaccine apartheid” which is enforced by WTO rules on intellectual property. Today’s statement reinforces that demand, highlighting that myriad existing harmful rules in the WTO must be transformed, while efforts to expand the failed WTO model through corporate-driven “plurilaterals” must be halted. Governments will take decisions on these matters at the 12th Ministerial meeting of the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, November 30 - December 3, 2021.

The statement also states that “in the interim, governments must make transformational changes to existing rules while a fundamentally new institution is envisioned. The WTO rules too often limit governments’ ability to use traditional development policies – which were used by all industrialized countries in their development – to promote jobs and domestic industries. Despite hypocritical claims by developed countries and global elites in the WTO, they have stalled the resolution of the development agenda in the WTO for nearly 20 years. Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) rules must be strengthened and operationalized for all developing countries, focusing on freedom from existing harmful WTO rules which limit the use of evidence-based development policies. Immediately, this would mean that governments would enjoy policy space to ensure domestic food security; to utilize technology transfer and data rights; to make use of job-creating performance requirements such as local content and local labor requirements; and have more flexibility to ensure affordable access to medicines, among other urgent priorities.”

The statement further calls for “an immediate halt to efforts to expand the scope and coverage of existing harmful rules, or to expand them to new arenas. In particular, our governments must halt the effort by Big Tech corporations to use the WTO to gain new pro-corporate rights in the digital economy, and to handcuff appropriate regulatory oversight. We call for a stop to the efforts: to deregulate the entire digital economy through the inappropriately named “e-commerce” negotiations; to bring more disciplines on investment policies through “investment facilitation” negotiations; to further encroach on regulatory sovereignty through “domestic regulation” negotiations; to restart talks on services liberalization; and to efforts to limit development flexibilities in the fisheries subsidies negotiations. Corporate boosters are undertaking these negotiations through “plurilateral” negotiations which are illegal under the WTO because they have no mandate, as most developing countries are opposed to them - for good reason.”

The statement then details dozens of specific rules in the WTO that must be urgently changed, in each of the areas of the WTO’s rulemaking. The statement concludes that “there are many more changes that must be made to the global trading system, including a fundamental review, abrogation, or transformation of bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements. The above represent a minimum of immediate changes that must be made in the multilateral trade system to provide more policy space for all countries to implement solutions towards promoting shared prosperity for the benefit of all.”

Endorsers include large international networks such as: the ACP Civil Society Forum; Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN); the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID); Friends of the Earth International (FOEI); Greenpeace; the Instituto del Tercer Mundo (ITEM) / Social Watch; the Peasant Action Movement (MAP): the Peoples Health Movement; the Society for International Development (SID); the Third World Network (TWN); and the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP).

It also includes regional economic justice networks including the African Centre for Trade, Integration and Development (CACID); the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET); the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND); the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development (APWLD); Eco-Accord; Enda Tiers Monde; Jubilee Caribbean; the Latin American Network for Economic and Social Justice (LATINDADD); the Latin American Network of Women Transforming the Economy (REMTE); the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG); the Seattle to Brussels Network; and the Southern African Development Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (SADC-CONGO); and the Third World Network - Africa, among others.

In addition to being supported by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the letter was also supported by global union federations including Public Services International (PSI); the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF); the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF); and IndustriALL Global Union. It is also supported by regional bodies such as the East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC), and national trade unions such as the Argentine Federation of Trade and Services Employees (FAECYS); the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); the CUT Peru; the National Federation of Public Servants (FENASEP) of Panama; the National Union of Public and General Employees of Canada; the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions; and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) of the United Kingdom, among others.

Many major national groups also endorsed, such as 11.11.11 in Belgium; Alliance Sud of Switzerland; the All Nepal Peasants’ Federation (ANPFA); the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET); Bread for the World of Germany; Consumers Association of Penang, Malaysia; the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and Both ENDS of the Netherlands; the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); Fairwatch Italy; Global Justice Now and War on Want of the UK; Indonesia for Global Justice (IGJ); the Pacific Asia Resource Center (PARC) of Japan; the Rede Brasileira Pela Integração dos Povos (REBRIP) of Brazil; and the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute SEATINI-Uganda; among many others.


The Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network of NGOs and social movements works for a sustainable, socially just, and democratic multilateral trading system.