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A letter of protest to the WTO
from the participants and organizers of the

Ecumenical Women's Forum
on Life-Promoting Trade

12-14 December 2005, Hong Kong

14 December 2005

Mr. Pascal Lamy
World Trade Organization

Dear Mr. Lamy:

We are seventy women theologians, pastors, activists, church and ecumenical leaders, sociologists, teachers, psychologists, political economists, youth and students from various faith communities and traditions and representing 27 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, and the Pacific region. Our identity and mandate as Christians compel us to make a strong commitment to social justice.

In response to the 6th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), we have come to Hong Kong to reflect and speak out against the fundamentally unjust policies of the WTO. During these four days we have critically analyzed the theological as well as gender, racial and ethnic implications of the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), lifting up alternatives.

The crisis facing small farmers and farm workers is undeniable. Today, 2.5 billion people, the majority of whom are women, rely on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood. Farmers are discriminated against, forced off their land, poisoned by pesticides and driven to commit suicide. It is abhorrent that in a world of plenty, countless children die from hunger and hunger-related diseases. We have heard similar stories from South Africa, Pakistan and Uganda. Rather than eradicating poverty, the AOA is a fundamentally unjust agreement using loopholes and back-room discussions. The July 2004 Framework on Modalities has done nothing to fulfill the Doha Development Round.

We strongly believe in holistic life-promoting trade relations that place people, communities, and the earth at the center. In agriculture, this implies the full embrace of food sovereignty, corporate accountability and transparency, land rights for peoples, and the right of governments to use domestic policy tools to protect and enhance local livelihoods. First and foremost, women's equality and gender, racial and ethnic justice must be assured. Only in this way can there be true justice in agricultural trade.

The commodification and opening up of essential services to private ownership particularly through GATS Modes 1 and 3 deprive the poor, mainly women, of their basic needs and fundamental rights such as water, health and education. Instead, these human rights have become the privilege of a few. We have learned that in Bolivia, Uganda and many countries, the privatization of water systems in consonance with GATS and other neoliberal policies has made life-giving water inaccessible to many. Moreover, with the privatization of educational systems and the consequent dramatic increases in tuition fees, fewer families can afford to send their children, particularly girls, to school thereby promoting a vicious cycle of poverty.

We firmly believe that life-supporting services should be made available for all peoples, regardless of their ability to pay. For this reason, we register our strong opposition to the GATS and affirm the primary responsibility of states to promote social welfare by protecting public goods and services.

In general, the policies of the WTO have resulted in displacement and losses in livelihood and food and health security, especially among the poor and marginalized. They have violated national sovereignty and the right to self-determination of many nations. Traditional economies have been eroded and women as the caregivers and providers of their families have been forced to migrate from their communities and countries in search of employment. Nearly half of the 192 million migrant workers are female. The consequences are the erosion of social structures and the disintegration of families and communities, leading to inflationary rates of crime, violence, drug abuse and increased vulnerability to HIV and AIDS. Migrants generally do not choose to leave their countries but do so in order to survive. They are heterogeneous: forced laborers, trafficked persons, undocumented workers and refugees. Many are pushed into sex work. However, all migrant workers are affected by discriminatory practices and suffer abuse from states, employers and society in general.

We believe that GATS Mode 4 is not the solution to forced migration as it commodifies human beings and does not promote the rights of all migrant workers. We therefore reject GATS Mode 4 and call upon United Nations (UN) member-states to respect and uphold UN Conventions. We strongly urge all countries to ratify and implement the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families in order to assert that migrant rights are human rights.

Driven by the free market ideology and the profit imperative, the WTO's trade rules shrink democratic space and processes leading to growing trade inequalities as well as widening social disparities.

Market contracts are superimposed on social contracts and corporate interests are translated into international law which has become increasingly de-linked from human rights. Thereby, the WTO undermines the fullness of life for all. It denies the theological covenant among peoples, communities and the earth, serving instead the interests of transnational capital and corporations. As women of faith, we believe that God created all human beings with dignity, respect and equality. We uphold the principle of life-promoting trade, which is in harmony with social justice and the empowerment of peoples and respects the diversity of global communities. Therefore, we strongly reject the WTO and the neoliberal trading systems it promotes.

Participating organizations:

EWF participants march in Hong Kong during the Action Week, December 2005
EWF participants march in Hong Kong during
the Action Week, December 2005