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Our Independence is not a Commodity! Lalit protests against the visit of WTO Director as Chief Guest of Mauritian Independence celebration


In the context of the visit of Mr. Supachai Panichaphakdi,
Director of the WTO

Open Letter to Hon. Paul Bérenger, Prime Minister

Lindepandans pa enn marsandiz! Our Independence is not a Commodity!


LALIT writes to protest against your decision to invite the Director of the World Trade Organisation as the official chief guest for the celebration of the 36th anniversary of the Independence of Mauritius. What is the significance of this rather dubious, not to say insulting decision, which you as new Prime Minister, have taken?

The World Trade Organisation is in fact the negation of independence itself, as it seriously undermines the people's sovereignty in terms of economic, social and developmental policy options. In addition, no single citizen of the world ever voted for the creation of the WTO itself. In Mauritius, no democratic debate whatsoever was conducted, neither amongst the people nor in the National Assembly, prior to the signature of the Marrakech WTO Agreement? Your now Minister, Anil Baichoo, went ahead and signed this agreement behind the backs of the people of Mauritius. Do you realise the symbolical significance of your decision to invite the Director of the WTO to be the chief guest? And how insulting it is to past generations of people who gave their lives to fight for democracy and people's sovereignty? Or do all these struggles no longer mean anything to you?

Since the advent of the WTO, poverty and social inequalities have amplified. The WTO has provoked a downward spiral of wages on the planet. With its unjust rules and agreements, such as the TRIP's (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights), millions of people are dying of AIDS: the pharmaceutical monopolies putting their "patent rights" before people's lives. In the same respect, millions of farmers are starving and are committing suicide on a massive scale in India, due to the control on seeds and agricultural production by monopolies. Millions of people are starving in Africa due to unequal trade relations accentuated by WTO agreements. The Cotton industry has been ruined in Africa. In Mauritius thousands of jobs are being lost or destroyed in the Sugar Industry and Free Zone sector due to the implementation of WTO agreements. Basic social rights are under threat through the implementation of the WTO - GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services). By inviting the WTO Director, you as Prime Minister, are thus symbolically endorsing the disastrous consequences of the WTO on the people of Mauritius, Africa and the world.

It is now accepted world wide that the rules, agreements and functioning of the World Trade Organisation are totally unjust. The WTO favours the interest of multinationals of major imperialist countries. Millions of people all round the world have voiced their concern every time the WTO have had their meetings. Many countries, including Mauritius, have protested against these unjust rules. It is these combined protests that have been the cause of the collapse of two Ministerial meetings of the WTO in Seattle and Cancun. And now you are unfolding the red carpet to welcome the Director of the WTO! Is there a hidden agenda behind this invitation? If not, what in any case can a mere Director operating within the framework of unjust rules and agreements bring more to the people of Mauritius? Are you not committing the same mistakes as you did in 1999, when in a trade union debate organised by the UBIW in the Burrenchoybay Hall, you described Mike Moore, the ex-Director of the WTO, as "l'ami des pauvres"? Seattle proved the exact opposite.

Hon. Prime Minister, the solution to the disastrous consequences of the WTO on our people and our economy does not lie in the attitude, character or opinions of its officers, be it the Director General. Any solution clearly lies in building solidarity and common actions within the region, the continent, at ACP level, in alliances with other countries to question the rules and agreements of the WTO itself. The collapse of Cancun opened the breathing space necessary for this questioning. For example, the whole purpose of not accepting "new issues" (also called Singapore Issues) being included within the realm of the WTO, was precisely to review existing agreements and their consequences on the people, before proceeding to any further liberalisation.

With Mauritius becoming the spokesperson for African and ACP countries in many trade forums, we are very concerned about this major re-orientation of the Mauritius State strategy as illustrated by this invitation to the Director of the WTO for our Independence celebrations. We note that this invitation follows informal meetings of Mauritian and a selected few African Ministers with the Director of the WTO in Egypt and Kenya. It also follows the rather shady decision of the Mauritian state to host the launching of the regional commercial EPA between Comesa and EU, while ACP countries are still struggling to clarify the modalities of these regional negotiations. In addition secret negotiations are being held with the USA in view of AGOA lll.

What is being "wheeled and dealed" between government, the private sector and the Director of the WTO behind the backs of the Mauritian people? It is now increasingly clear that the Mauritian state is moving towards a strategy calling for a derogation based on the vulnerability of "small island economies" within the WTO, and also towards asking for "compensation" to be allocated for the "restructuring" of the sugar and free zone sectors. If this is the Mauritian strategy in inviting the WTO director, it is indeed a very dangerous one, as it will undermine all the support that Mauritius has been enjoying at African and ACP levels. It is an isolationist strategy.

This strategy corresponds more to the narrow interests of the Mauritian private sector and not necessarily to that of the people and coming generations of Mauritius. The private sector wants to protect its selfish interests in the context of the liberalisation caused by the WTO, while at the same time grabbing the other benefits of the WTO that serves its interests. For example Mauritian capital is preparing a new phase of delocalisation, with the active support of your government, thus generating massive unemployment in the country. The private sector favors the implementation of the GATS, to export "services" to other parts of the world, while at the same time GATS will seriously undermine the social rights of the people.

Hon. Paul Bérenger, by inviting the Director of the WTO, you are in fact transforming the whole celebration of the Independence of our country into a mere commercial enterprise. In addition, given that the whole gamut of WTO issues has been co-managed by an unholy alliance of Ministers-technocrats- Private sector, Independence is now being reduced to a state-private sector affair. The irony is that the same unrepentant private sector, which still has amongst its ranks, people who fought against independence, is now with your complicity, attempting to hijack the Independence celebration to try to protect its selfish interests in the face of savage global capitalism.

Hon. Paul Berenger, as new Prime Minister, you are making a blunder of historical dimension through lack of principles.

Lindepandans pa enn marsandiz!

Ram Seegobin
For Lalit
7th March 2004

153b Main Rd
Port Louis
Republic of Mauritius
Tel: 208-2132, 208-5551

* This letter was faxed to the Prime Minister on Monday 8th March 2004. The Director of the WTO is expected to be in Mauritius from the 11th to the 13th of March. He will be the Chief Guest at the official ceremony of Independence on the 12th of March.