The World Trade Organization (WTO) and Indigenous Peoples:
Resisting Globalization, Asserting Self-Determination
We, the Indigenous Peoples of Mother Earth gathered here in Bali, Indonesia on 2-6 December 2013, organizing our own workshop and various events parallel to the World Trade Organization Ninth Ministerial Meeting (WTO MC9), hereby agreed to resist neoliberal globalization and assert our right to Self-Determination.
As Indigenous Peoples of the land and the waters, we have a close relationship to Mother Earth and nature. This relationship tells us that life on Mother Earth is in danger and coming to a time of great transformation. We are accepting the responsibility as the guardians of the earth, which has been designated by our respective Original Instructions woven into our cosmovisions, cultures, languages, and ways of life. We are telling the trade ministers of the world governments that we must all work together to create a new paradigm in global trade instruments and economic systems that fully recognizes the vital life-giving cycles, well-being and territorial integrity of Mother Earth.
We reaffirm our responsibilities to protect and defend our lands, water, territories, natural resources, culture and traditional knowledge, all of which are vital to the survival of all of humanity and for future generations. We will persevere in our struggle in reclaiming our inherent rights as Indigenous Peoples and for the well-being of Mother Earth. Until the right to self-determination of Indigenous Peoples and universal laws that recognize Mother Earth as a living being are observed and respected, genuine sustainable development will not be achieved.
We share a common history of colonization and globalization. For centuries, we experienced the colonisation of our lands, territories, air, ice, oceans and waters, mountains and forests. Colonialism institutionalized the oppression and exploitation of Indigenous Peoples up to the current era of globalization, exacerbated by the neoliberal impositions of multilateral trade agreements implemented over six decades through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), replaced by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. In its 9th Ministerial Conference, we believe that the WTO will only push for greater neoliberal policies on globalization, liberalization, privatization, deregulation, and denationalization that will consequently intensify the violation of our inherent rights as Indigenous Peoples and the multiple crises that humanity confronts today.
Thus, with our common problems, aspirations and struggles, we resolved to strengthen our unity as Indigenous Peoples and link our struggles with various democratic sectors and organizations worldwide until our right to self-determination and liberation is achieved.
The World Trade Organization and Violation of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
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. WTO’s catchphrases of “borderless world”, “leveling the playing field” and “free market democracies”, involves the removal of restrictions or so-called trade barriers that hinder greater corporate profit. While the WTO binds the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to implement the neoliberal policies on trade of goods and services, the few capitalist countries on the other hand, protect their economies from these “free market” policies.
Several WTO Ministerials, such as the Doha Development Round in 2001, collapsed due to continuing disagreements over subsidies on agricultural products, market access, and special safeguard mechanisms, and massive Peoples’ protests. In its 9th Ministerial Conference, the WTO will 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), Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), and General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and forge new multilateral agreements. The proposed agreement for the MC9 called the Bali Package will push for greater liberalization in agriculture, acceleration of LDCs in the WTO, and expedite trade facilitation through restructuring of GATT articles on imports-exports and trade costs. The Bali Package, along with post-Bali issues on International Technology Agreement (ITA) and Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), are labeled by developed countries as the solution to the stalled Doha Round to pursue intensified trade liberalization.
Indigenous Peoples, especially future generations, will be extremely affected by these decisions and agreements. For over 6 six decades now, since colonization, neoliberal policies have intensified the sufferings of the Indigenous Peoples. Our lands, territories and natural resources have been exploited by unsustainable development projects, such as mono-cultural chemically intensive plantations, extractive industries such as mining, oil drilling, hydro projects and other environmentally destructive “renewable” energy projects. Trade and investment liberalization have resulted in development aggression and plunder of our territories. We have been displaced from our Indigenous lands and territories. Our Indigenous knowledge, values and spirituality have been bastardized. And our rights to self-determination, to our own governance and own self-determined development have been violated. While defending our inherent and collective rights, we continue to suffer from militarization and State terrorism, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, assassination, arbitrary arrests, imprisonment, criminalization of community resistance, harassment and vilification as “terrorists.” All of this has happened for the sake of globalization, and is bound to worsen as the WTO imposes more agreements and policies.
Our experiences show that the removal of tariffs and quantitative restrictions on import goods has led to the influx of foreign products in domestic markets. The AoA has unleashed agricultural liberalisation and imposed the importation of agricultural crops even if locally produced. It has forced many developing countries to favor transnational agricultural companies like Monsanto and compelled impoverished Indigenous Peoples to use high yielding varieties (HYV) seeds without being informed of the negative effects. The AoA pushes for commercial agricultural production, replacing traditional plant varieties with genetically altered species marketed by agriculture companies, and chemical-laden foods. The AoA eliminates the ability of Indigenous Peoples to produce culturally appropriate and sufficient food. Such trading system is detrimental to Indigenous Peoples’ food security, health and sustainability. It forces dependency to the capitalist market and weakens Indigenous Peoples’ ability to self-determined development and food sovereignty. The WTO demands reduction of subsidies on price support, while capitalist countries 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 imports from abroad. States worsen this situation by failing to protect Indigenous Peoples’ sources of livelihood and food, land and resources.
Through our harmonious relations with nature as part of our spirituality, culture and beliefs, we maintain knowledge and practice of Indigenous medicines from medicinal plants and animals. We, however, are denied rights and control over our Indigenous medicines when these are taken over by big corporations as their intellectual property rights under WTO. 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. We are also alarmed that the WTO allows the patenting of life forms including extraction of genetic information under its TRIPS. These capitalist monsters treat Indigenous Peoples as valuable and vulnerable targets for medical research and experiments.
Trade agreements on services have further marginalized and impoverished us, with very limited access to basic social and health services, a situation worsened by government neglect and discrimination. Our right to quality and affordable education and health is further violated by GATS which allows foreign corporations to own and operate educational and health institutions leading to profit-oriented and corporate owned services that are available only to the few who have the means to pay. Education is designed to meet the needs and interests of the multinational corporations and the advanced capitalist countries above the social values and needs of Indigenous communities and national development of poor countries. As a result, the youth and the next generations’ futures are bleak and the survival of our Indigenous knowledge is in peril.
Globalisation has even destroyed our biological and cultural diversity, ecosystems, values and traditional knowledge that constitute our existence as humans and as Indigenous Peoples. It is the culprit of the climate crisis, which exacerbates the historical, political, and economic marginalisation of Indigenous Peoples. It puts Indigenous Peoples in a very vulnerable situation, notwithstanding the fact that Indigenous Peoples have contributed the least to the climate crisis.
The dominant world capitalist system under which the WTO and similar trade agreements operate is the culprit to the multiple crises that humanity confronts today. The neoliberal policies of globalization, liberalization, deregulation, privatization and denationalization are the root causes of the protracted economic, financial, political, and climatic crises that have put Indigenous Peoples in more oppressive and exploitative conditions and the planet on the brink of destruction. The WTO MC9 in its Bali Package is hell-bent on pushing and imposing more new deals that would intensify our misery ten-fold, as it demands the acceleration of neoliberal globalization for more profit to the few ruling elite of the advanced capitalist countries and their transnational corporations above the interest of Indigenous Peoples, humanity and Mother Earth. Clearly, the WTO advances the neoliberal globalization framework and violates all the rights of Peoples, including Indigenous Peoples and Nations, to self-determination, life and liberty. The WTO is an instrument that serves the primary interest of the multinational corporations and the few advanced capitalist countries to the detriment of Indigenous Peoples worldwide, humanity, Mother Earth and all life.
We will persevere in our struggle to gain self-determination and autonomy. Until our right to self-determination is respected, genuine sustainable development will not be achieved.
We are united to oppose and reject the commodification, privatisation and plunder of nature, which includes the green economy, false- or market-based solutions including biodiversity and conservations offsets that put profit above humanity and the planet. We are in solidarity to resist neoliberal globalization. We are united to fight for our rights to self-determination and assert the future we want. We declare to Junk WTO, oppose new deals, and push for an alternative trade agenda appropriate to Indigenous Peoples.
We push for an alternative trade system appropriate for us. We do not just reject trade per se, but push for trade systems that respect and recognise our traditional economies and governance. We envision systems that promote solidarity, mutual cooperation and respect, based on the needs and development of our communities and empowerment of our people. We demand systems that underpin our inherent right to self-determination and our permanent sovereignty over our traditional lands, territories and resources, forests, water, and everything that sustains life for the future generations. We demand systems that reject, and call for the abolition of, all colonial, unequal, and neocolonial trade agreements such as the WTO and other similar trade agreements.
We will continue to strengthen our ranks and further develop and mobilize the capacities of the young generations and women in advancing our struggles against neoliberal globalization and its instruments like the WTO until its removal. We will link our struggles not only with Indigenous Peoples worldwide, but also with other Peoples’ movements, democratic and marginalized sectors and civil society organisations (CSOs) that have common goals and aspirations with that of Indigenous Peoples. We join the worldwide movement to Junk WTO and reject Neoliberal Globalization.
We commit to consolidate our efforts to engage the WTO and other multilateral, regional and bilateral trade syndicates/agreements, and we strongly oppose agreements forged without our knowledge, participation, and consent. In our engagement to these trade agreements, we shall bring to the forefront as main points of assertion our inherent right to self-determination, self-determined and sustainable development, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Alta Outcome Document and other declarations on our collective rights as Indigenous Peoples.
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 rights to lands, territories, and self-determination.
We must take collective control of our natural resources based on the principles of people’s participation, gender equality, environmental and social justice, self-reliant and sustainable management systems and mindful of the needs of the whole of humanity while maintaining a deep respect, responsibility and recognition of the natural laws of Mother Earth and all creatures within. We must regain sovereignty over our lands and resources from multinational corporations and capitalist countries. We focus on building sustainable communities based on indigenous knowledge and peoples’ development, not on capitalist development. We must strive to promote and assert our sustainable ways of life, social and cultural values for the common good and the whole of society, collective interest over individual, service over profit, respect and care for nature and Mother Earth, including our viable solutions as opposed to false solutions to climate change.
While we continue to unite as Indigenous Peoples worldwide, we also uphold the spirit of international solidarity with other sectors, organizations, activists and genuine advocates of our issues. This solidarity advances our global campaign for Indigenous Peoples’ rights to self-determination and liberation. Junk WTO! No New Deals!
Our Immediate Demands
As we conclude our workshop and events parallel to the WTO MC9, we state the following demands to the World Trade Organisation, the States and Corporations:
We demand for focus on new economies based on the principles of living in harmony with nature and governed by the absolute limits and boundaries of ecological sustainability, the carrying capacities of Mother Earth, and in recognition of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.
We demand for a stop to the capitalism of nature. All economic frameworks and trade regimes that privatise and financialise the functions of nature through green economy initiatives must be halted. Mother Earth is the source of life which needs to be protected, not a resource to be exploited and commodified as a natural capital. We call for the halt of all policies controlling the reproductive capacity of Mother Earth through market-based mechanisms that allow for the quantification and commodification of the natural processes of Mother Earth being branded as ecosystem services.
We demand for the respect of Indigenous Peoples’ collective rights, such as but not limited to their traditional lands, territories, resources, free prior informed consent (FPIC), self-determination, culture and identity, and traditional management systems as enshrined in the UNDRIP and other international standards in negotiations and agreements. All trade agreements on investments, programs and projects affecting our lands, territories, communities, culture and identity without our FPIC must be immediately revoked and cancelled.
We demand for the repeal of all trade agreements affecting us without our meaningful, full and effective participation and FPIC. Likewise, we demand for Indigenous Peoples’ full and active participation in decision-making processes and discourses on trade and other matters affecting us at all levels. Our right to FPIC is fundamental, and thus we continue to assert that this must be respected. Nothing About Us, Without Us!
We demand for the full recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ inherent and inalienable right to self-determination and permanent sovereignty over our lands, territories, resources, air, ice, oceans, waters, mountains and forests.
We demand an end to the militarization of our communities, for States and corporations to be held accountable on human rights violations, and ensured justice to the victims and their families and communities who have experienced such atrocities.
Likewise, States should provide concrete support, such as appropriate technologies and funds, to help us develop for ourselves our own self-determined and sustainable development models ad methods.
Stop the theft and patenting of our traditional seeds, medicines, traditional knowledge, and our identity. Stop the commodification of our sacred culture for megatourism projects and other big businesses.
Stop the criminalization of community resistance and end the culture of impunity. Pull out State armed forces in Indigenous territories, and uphold the responsibility to provide basic social services to Indigenous communities.
Affirmed this 3rd day of December 2013, in Bali, Indonesia.
Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL)
Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network (APIYN)
Alyansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN)
Barisan Pemuda Adat Nusantara (BPAN)
Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA)
Land is Life
Committee for the Protection of Natural Resources-Manipur
Center for Research and Advocacy-Manipur
Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)
International Organisation for Self-Determination and Equality (IOSDE)
Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP)
BAI National Network of Indigenous Women in the Philippines
Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center