News / 6 December 2011

Churches want ni-Vanuatu participation in decision-making on WTO-membership

Churches, NGOs and local communities in Vanuatu have repeatedly expressed their concerns about the accession of the country to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) under current conditions. However, the Government has gagged opposition groups and without consultation decided to join.

Local communities, traditional leaders and civil society organisations, including the Church Body in Vanuatu believe that joining the WTO currently has no clear advantages, but will pose a serious threat to the immediate and future living conditions of the population. They are concerned about the welfare of the islanders, especially the poor and marginalised. The people or their representatives were not consulted by the Government of Vanuatu during the decision-making process and have had no say in the matter at all.

Public Courage

The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC), the largest civil society organisation in the Pacific with a membership of approximately 6.5 million out of the 8.5 million inhabitants, supports the ni-Vanuatu in their struggle for participation. Reverend Francois Phihaatae of PCC stresses that the Government of Vanuatu has repeatedly ignored the call of local groups to refrain from timely accession to the WTO. He believes that "this expression of public courage and will by the people to accompany their government in negotiations with the WTO is to be celebrated, not stifled."

Fruitless petition

In an effort to persuade the government of Vanuatu to engage in a dialogue based on equality with churches, NGOs and local communities, the PCC sent a petition to several civil society organisations worldwide. Both ENDS signed this petition. "We agree with the PCC that governments should seize the opportunity to be extended by these organisations and the representatives of local communities. Governments can take advantage of the alternative visions and contributions of these groups, technical or otherwise", Burghard Ilge of Both ENDS says. Despite the fierce opposition and many expressions of support, this week Vanuatu made the final decission to join the WTO. Ilge: "This month, a new WTO Ministerial Conference is to be held in Geneva. Everything indicates that the exclusion of local groups and the premature decision of the Government of Vanuatu is related thereto."

Petition Pacific Conference of Churches


photo: PhilipC

Read more about this subject