Tuesday, March 07, 2006

WTO GMO boomerang

Besides a front page story of Le Monde last week, I am not sure that due attention has been brought on Friends of the Earth's scoop leaking out the ruling of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Dispute Settlement Panel on the GMO trade war between the US, Canada and Argentina on the one hand, and the European Union on the other. The leaked document shows that -- contrary to US allegations -- the European Union is winng the dispute (I say "is winning" and not "won", because the pro-GMO group can appeal).

Is this lack of attention due to the fact that (generally speaking) the majority of the press cannot be very proud with the fact that when the report was issued in February, they took for granted the words of a US delegate saying that the WTO had vindicated the views of his country and condemned the European Union's restrictions on genetically modified organisms? The misleading US interpretation of the story was widely reported last month as if it was the plain truth. But now with the actual report in your hands what you see is that the WTO found no reason to condemn the European Union's legitimate restrictions. In other words, the US-led dispute is backfiring, like a boomerang.

Misleading the press deliberately has become a US national sport, apparently. The way the US Republicans play it is simple: they spread their wishful thinking rather than facts, and they hope it sticks. They got away with it (to some extent) with the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction allegations two years ago, and it almost worked too in their war against the Kyoto Protocol. So why not try it at the WTO?

Having congratulated Friends of the Earth for their great scoop, I am not entirely sure that it was right to say, in this context, in the last paragraph of their press release that "this is the report that the WTO didn’t want the public to see". That's the report that the US didn't want the public to see, but "the WTO", I am not sure. I am not entirely sure either that it "reveals that the big corporations [...] stand behind the WTO". The latter may or may not be true, but what the leaked document essentially shows is that -- still today -- David can beat Goliath.

In the years 1999-2000, I was involved in a political campaign with Greenpeace which we won, to promote an environmentally workable Protocol on Biosafety to the UN Framework Convention on Biological Diversity that reaffirmed the right of any country to say "no" to genetically modified organisms in food and agriculture. The Protocol, which entered into force on (curiously) September 11 2003, has now been ratified by 132 countries (not the US of course, which has not even ratified the Framework Convention on Biological Diversity because they do not want to be bound with the obligation contained therein to share with developing countries the benefits from the exploitation of genetic resources). The Biosafety Protocol was construed as an instrument to protect biodiversity against "GMO trade at all costs".

My own reading of the document leaked by Friends of the Earth, thus, is that the WTO increasingly will be forced to take into account Multilateral Environmental Agreements as a reality. "Trade at all costs" will soon be passé.

Wishful thinking on my part?

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