Invitation: Indigenous Peoples and the World Trade Organization series of activities in Bali, Indonesia on December 2-6, 2013

The World Trade Organization (WTO) and Indigenous Peoples: Resisting Globalization, Asserting Self-Determination

The WTO is the primary instrument of neoliberal globalization to further economic globalization especially in international trade. It aims to build a unitary system of trade relations of countries around the world governed by various agreements. Using catchphrases of a “borderless world” and “leveling the playing field,” it has imposed the removing of restrictions or so-called trade barriers that get in the way of greater corporate profit. Contrary to “free trade” and similar lies and myth, the WTO serves the primary interest and control of monopoly capital and the few advanced capitalist countries over the global economy.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) formally established the WTO in 1995 through the Final Act of the Uruguay Round of negotiations. The GATT together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) were bodies established in 1948 after World War II at the Bretton Woods. These three while appear separate actually work-in-tandem or inter-lock in effecting global free trade.

Capitalist countries led by the United States control the GATT, IMF and WB. The IMF and WB provide loans in the name of national progress to poor and developing countries but imposing Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) that provides liberalization, deregulation and privatization as prior conditions for granting loans and debt reductions. The GATT and WTO, and regional trade initiatives such as Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) with their related multilateral agreements bind countries to implement these neoliberal policies.

The WTO currently governs 159 member States that are obliged upon entry to implement these multilateral agreements even if detrimental to their own economy and harm its citizens. Non-compliance shall mean sanctions that its Dispute Settlement Body decides in closed-door proceedings.

This December 3-6, 2013, the World Trade Organization (WTO) shall convene its ninth Ministerial Meeting (MC 9) in Bali, Indonesia. The Ministerial Meeting is the highest decision-making body of the WTO and usually meets every two years. The last was in Geneva on 2011. It can make decisions on any of the multilateral trade related agreements such as the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and forge new multilateral agreements.

In Bali, we expect the MC 9 to push for greater liberalization in agriculture, acceleration of least-developed countries (LDC) in the WTO, and expediting trade facilitation through restructuring of GATT articles on imports-exports and trade costs. At the same time, it shall attempt to mask the mal-development wrought by the WTO.

The Peoples’ Global Camp (PGC) against Globalization – a series and weeklong activities coinciding with the ninth Ministerial Meeting in Bali, Indonesia – shall unmask the WTO by exposing the ill effects and destruction due to globalization. As in previous rounds of GATT negotiations and ministerial meetings, it shall reiterate its position of Junk WTO and call for NO New Deals.

WTO and Indigenous Peoples

Majority or 95% of the world’s indigenous are in Asia and Latin America, largely are peasants who face the brunt of globalization.

Indigenous lands, territories, resources, and waters are rich in natural resources and biodiversity. Reportedly, the remaining resources worldwide – valuable and essential to the survival of all – are in indigenous territories. However, from colonization to this era of globalization, these have been valuable targets as commodities. Thus, we expect further resource extraction and plunder of indigenous peoples’ territories through mining, energy, mono-crop-commercial plantations, and logging, including theft and commercialization of traditional knowledge and genetic information, indigenous culture, sacred artifacts, heirlooms, and the like.  The commoditization of nature and Mother Earth bounds to worsen as WTO impose more agreements. The multiple crises – economic, political, environmental and climatic – we face today become unprecedented resulting in more violations of our collective rights as indigenous peoples.

On international trade, the removal of tariffs and quantitative restrictions on import goods led to the influx of foreign products in domestic markets. The AoA allowed the importation of agricultural crops even if locally produced. Adding further damage, the WTO likewise demand reduction of State subsidies on price support, seeds and fertilizer costs while advanced capitalist countries consistently refuse to apply this in their own economies. This has damaged livelihoods resulting in bankruptcy of farmers including indigenous peoples, as they are unable to compete with subsidized and cheaper harvests from abroad. The AoA pushes for commercial agricultural production wherein it replaces indigenous or traditional plant varieties with genetically altered species marketed by agriculture companies, and chemical laden foods, detrimental to food security, health and sustainability. Such trading will foster dependency of indigenous communities to outside capitalist market and in the process breaks their ability to assert their political rights, self-determined development, and food sovereignty. The AoA further conscripts the ability of indigenous peoples to produce culturally appropriate food, grow their own food of their choice and quantity in their own land.

Intellectual property rights are not exempt from globalization. Big pharmaceutical corporations, race for patents to gain exclusive control for the production, marketing, distribution and sales of products derived from indigenous knowledge and practice. Indigenous peoples might not even be aware that corporations pirated and earn profit from the knowledge they hold and share in common such as the medicinal uses of plants.  The WTO alarmingly allows the patenting of life forms including extraction of genetic information under its TRIPS. The relatively isolation of indigenous peoples makes them valuable targets for medical research and experiments. Reportedly, Boehringer Ingelheim a German pharmaceutical company bought for $70 million the biotechnology rights of blood samples collected from the indigenous peoples of Trista de Cunha, South Atlantic because of its potential for asthma treatments.

States enact, amend or repeal protective legislations on national industries, agriculture, and services that bar “free trade.” It legalizes liberalization, deregulation and privatization in compliance with WTO agreements and obligations. It undermines indigenous peoples’ rightful control and management of their productive land and resources.  In the Philippines, the enactment of the Mining Act of 1995 totally liberalized the mining industry and offered the country’s mineral resources and ancestral lands for plunder by big foreign mining companies. Laws and policies that deregulated the oil industry and privatized basic services and public assets have greater impacts on indigenous peoples who have been historically marginalized, impoverished, and neglected by the State.

The WTO has expanded even to include health and education services that further discriminate and worsen government neglect of indigenous peoples, and lessening our access to vital social services.

In addition, States and governments in collusion with corporations allow State security forces and arm civilians by creating paramilitary forces that impose the implementation of these multilateral agreements, and facilitate and protect the above extractions. Indigenous communities are highly militarized and we attest of escalating violation of our individual and collective rights, destruction of our indigenous life ways. Many of us are alienated from our lands with forced dislocation and evacuation as governments implement destructive projects without our free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

The WTO violates indigenous peoples’ ownership, control, access and benefit of natural resources, indigenous knowledge, information and culture. Thus, it is for us to forward, assert, and engage.

We have seen in this decade great victories for indigenous peoples in our participation in international processes with the signing of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007, the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP). We look forward to bigger achievements as we prepare to engage further States and governments in the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) in 2014. These reflect the growing solidarity and strength of indigenous peoples’ organizations and movement for land and self-determination.

However, we have much yet to be done.  The WTO worsened the prevalent poverty and repression currently experienced by indigenous peoples. Thus, we should also engage the WTO and other regional trade syndicates and strongly register our opposition to agreements forged without our knowledge, participation, and consent.

The very recent Alta Outcome Document reaffirms “that the inherent and inalienable right of self determination is preeminent and is a prerequisite for the realization of all rights. We Indigenous Peoples, have the right of self determination and permanent sovereignty over our lands, territories, resources, air, ice, oceans and waters, mountains and forests.” It strongly states under Theme 3: Implementation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “13. xxx in keeping with our right of self determination and free prior and informed consent, Indigenous Peoples participate effectively and fully in the negotiations of all relevant international agreements that may affect them including multi lateral and bilateral trade and investment agreements and organizations including in the review of existing agreements;”

Thus, indigenous peoples’ engagement in these multilateral institutions shall bring to the fore as main points of assertion the UNDRIP, the Alta Outcome Document and other declarations on our right to self-determination. It shall also stand on our intensifying defense of lands, territories, waters and air at the local level.

We shall strive to achieve gains that go beyond the mechanisms and opportunities in the UN, and of the benevolence of States and governments. Like in other international fora, processes and mechanisms, we shall create our own spaces asserting our right to lands, territories, and self-determination. Indigenous peoples all over the world should assert our call to the WTO, Nothing about Us, Without Us.

Activities on the WTO and Indigenous Peoples

In the Peoples’ Global Camp against WTO and Neoliberalization, the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) together with the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA), Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network (APIYN), Centre for Research and Advocacy-Manipur, Committee on the Protection of Natural Resources in Manipur, Archipelago Indigenous Youth Front-Indonesia (BPAN), Alliance of Indigenous Peoples in the Archipelago-Indonesia (AMAN), and Land is Life (LiL) organizes a series of activities on the WTO and Indigenous Peoples on December 2-6, 2013 in Denpasar, Bali:

  • Workshop on Indigenous Peoples and the WTO on December 2 (whole day) and December 3 (morning)
  • IP Tent, and participation in the People’s Global Camp from December 3 (afternoon) to December 6
  • Forum on Indigenous Peoples and WTO during the People’s Global Camp on December 5, 9-12 AM

The IPMSDL is a movement of grassroots-based indigenous peoples’ organizations, communities and advocates found in different parts of the world, who are struggling to defend the rights of indigenous peoples. It aims to fight for the recognition and respect of all our inherent rights as indigenous peoples to land, life, self-determination, liberation and social justice. It stands for the right of indigenous peoples to govern ourselves and for liberation from imperialism, state oppression and human rights violations.

In accordance with its goal, the IPMSDL including the co-organizers of the Workshop joins the worldwide anti-globalization movement to Junk WTO. We shall participate in the People’s Global Camp with simultaneous activities in our home countries. Citing adverse impacts to indigenous peoples, we shall also formally register with the ninth Ministerial Meeting our position “Junk WTO! No New Deals!”

The IP activities aim to gather indigenous peoples, IP advocates, environmental organizations, human rights organizations, and other civil society organizations (CSOs). It has the following objectives:

1.            Build deeper understanding and awareness on the WTO and globalization, and its specific impacts on indigenous peoples. Position the struggles of indigenous peoples in the mainstream of the global campaign against WTO and globalization;

2.           Act as a forum for exchange and learning on the impacts of WTO on indigenous peoples, and how we confront these. Forge anti-globalization solidarity among indigenous peoples and with other similarly affected sectors of society; and

3.            Formulate a Unity Statement of Indigenous Peoples that we shall submit to the WTO MC 9 and shall be part of the PGC statement on WTO; and unite on an Action Plan in engaging the WTO.

The Workshop shall also forward its Unity Statement to CSOs, State representatives, and private institutions for their information and appropriate action. We also hope to establish communications with other IP organizations, advocates and institutions. #

For queries, please contact any of the following:

Ms. Bestang K. Dekdeken

Coordinator, Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation



Mr. Simon Pabaras

President, Archipelago Indigenous Youth Front or BPAN

Member, Alliance of Indigenous Peoples in the Archipelago or AMAN



Mr. Windel B. Bolinget

Chairperson, Cordillera Peoples Alliance