China's accession to the World Trade Organisation

Thursday, 8 November 2001

China's accession to the World Trade Organisation may pose new threats to Tibetan livelihoods
Download report 'Livelihoods Lost? Globalisation, WTO accession and the future of the Tibetan people' (in Adobe Acrobat)

As the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) Ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar approaches, when China's application for membership of the WTO is expected to be formally endorsed, Free Tibet Campaign warned that the WTO's controversial pro-globalisation agreements may adversely affect Tibetan livelihoods and food security.

Free Tibet Campaign has published a discussion paper entitled 'Livelihoods Lost? Globalisation, WTO accession and the future of the Tibetan people', by Jonathan Charles, a political economist. The paper focuses on the agriculture and pastoral sectors upon which over three quarters of Tibetans depend for their livelihoods, and concludes that there are strong indications that there may be negative impacts on the economic position of vulnerable Tibetans and their environment. Examples include the acceleration of forced sedentarisation of nomads and degradation of grasslands (see extracts below).

"The Chinese Government has repeatedly denied Tibetans the right to determine their own political and economic future for over fifty years, and WTO accession seems likely to pose new threats to these democratic rights," said Anne Callaghan of Free Tibet Campaign. "Only when the Tibetans have more control over their own affairs will these risks recede."

Ironically, the Chinese Government published its White Paper on Tibet's March Toward Modernization today in advance of the WTO meeting which sought to justify its continuing occupation of Tibet and ruthless exploitation of its natural resources without real benefit to Tibetans. Free Tibet Campaign also warned multi-national companies considering investments in Tibet to be aware of the potential impacts of such investments to the unique cultural and religious heritage of the Tibetan people. Making an example of BP, which took a $578 million stake in PetroChina in March 2000, campaigners have raised awareness of the ethical issues associated with investment in Tibet. These issues include lending financial support to the Chinese Government's politically motivated 'Western Economic Development Strategy' which is stripping Tibet of its natural resources without benefit to the Tibetan people, and facilitating population transfer into the country.

For more information contact: Anne Callaghan, 020 7833 9958, Mobile 07796 012 533

For a copy of 'Livelihoods Lost? Globalisation, WTO accession and the future of the Tibetan people', please contact Free Tibet Campaign on 020 7833 9958 or email


Executive Summary from 'Livelihoods Lost? Globalisation, WTO accession and the future of the Tibetan people'

The negotiations over China's accession to the WTO have finally been completed. When a country accedes to the WTO, its inhabitants are not consulted. China is no exception. The Tibetan people were not consulted about China's accession to the World Trade Organisation, but they will nevertheless be subject to its regulations.

China's accession to the World Trade Organisation signals an acceleration of the processes of economic liberalisation, and thus of globalisation, within China's territory. This report examines recent trends in the Tibetan economy in order to suggest ways in which Tibetans living in U'Tsang, Amdo and Kham (or the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China and Tibetan minorities in other Chinese states such as Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan) may be affected by the WTO agreement and the wider processes of globalisation. In the introduction, the relationships between globalisation, economic liberalisation, the WTO and transnational corporations (TNCs) are clarified, and the historical context of China's widespread denial of Tibetans' economic autonomy is outlined. In the following section, the significance of the WTO to China and to Tibet is discussed. Those aspects of the WTO which are likely to have most significance for the Tibetan people are explained in some detail. This is followed by an assessment of how Tibetan agricultural and pastoral livelihoods (which together constitute well over three quarters of all Tibetan livelihoods) might be affected. Without the benefit of fieldwork, this section seeks to raise pertinent questions rather than detail accurate predictions. The right to livelihood is taken as the central issue at stake as it encompasses many of the social, cultural and economic dimensions of how Tibetans live - unlike narrower terms such as the right to employment or the right to an adequate standard of living. Tibetan independence, all too often, is conceived only within the language of western political science.

It is the principal contention of this paper that China's accession to the WTO and the wider processes of economic liberalisation and globalisation will destroy many Tibetan livelihoods in due course despite Tibet's poor (but improving) infrastructure leaving it relatively isolated from the impacts of the WTO in the short term.

Extracts from 'Livelihoods Lost? Globalisation, WTO accession and the future of the Tibetan people'
Summary of Impacts on the Tibetan economy of WTO accession

1. Depressed Prices, Insecure Markets

The liberalisation of prices would in theory allow artificially low state grain procurement prices to rise. However, in a context of massive imports of cheap grains from overseas, this is unlikely to occur as domestic prices will be depressed by the import influx. Wen Tiejun of the Rural Economy Research Centre of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has argued this point unequivocally when stating that "WTO entry will depress farmer incomes, particularly in the centre and west of China" (Wen Tiejun, 1999). Not only will market integrated Tibetan farmers be unable to achieve greater prices for their produce (particularly but not exclusively with regard to grains), they will face shrinking markets for their produce in the face of cheap imports.

2. Displacement of Livelihoods through Imports

Large capital-intensive farms in countries such as the US will be able to use the market access provisions of the WTO agreement to increase exports to China. As the White House put it, "China's entry to the World Trade Organisation will slash barriers to the sale of American agricultural products in the world's most populous country ... this agreement locks in and expands our access to a market over one billion people" (White House, 2000).

Barley, Tibet's most important agricultural crop, will have its import quota removed by China under the WTO accession agreement. In its place will be a 9% tariff (USDA). Moreover China has agreed that within three years of accession, "any entity will be able to import most products, including grain, into any part of China" (

While agricultural imports are clearly set to rise substantially, the distance of Tibetan markets from the arrival ports is so great that the amount of imports reaching Tibetan areas would be reduced, but agricultural commodities are already being imported into Tibetan areas in substantial quantities and there is an existing deficit of agricultural produce in much of Tibet. Demand will pull those cheaper grains into Tibet. If such imports exceed the deficits, as would almost inevitably be the case, the markets upon which some Tibetan farmers depend would be reduced.

3. Market Integration and Sedentarization

The rangelands of Tibet cover 70% of the plateau, and support over a million nomads and semi-nomads (Tibet Government-in-Exile 2000). In 1960, the plateau within the TAR supported 9.6 million head of livestock. By 1998, this had risen to 22.5 million (Tibet Statistical Yearbook). Official sources assert that 65% of nomads in Tsolho Tibet Autonomous Prefecture have been settled and that 275,000 hectares had been fenced off (Marshall and Cooke, 2081). These figures will have since risen under the prefecture's state policy of "turning grass into an industry" (ibid.). With the industrialisation of grass will come industrially produced inputs. In the late 1980s, Tibetan pastoralism was not linked to grain production in a feed complex. However, the intensification of production leads onto increasing proportions of livestock's sustenance being provided by industrially produced feeds. This creates dependence on high cost inputs which will push some pastoralists out of production. It is also a sector which stands to be substantially affected by the import influx.

Sedentarisation - often forced - is a widespread phenomenon. It is more widely practised in Ngawa T&QAP, and in Qinghai than in Kartse TAP. 52,000 out of Qinghai Province's 91,000 pastoral families had been sedentarised by 1994 according to official statistics (Marshall and Cooke 2384). All those Tibetans interviewed in one detailed body of research were fiercely opposed to this policy. Four clear economic and ecological consequences of this policy have been identified by Marshall and Cooke besides the denial of economic and cultural autonomy. Firstly, it reduces pastoralists' claims to their land and its uses. Secondly, it increases land degradation through overgrazing threatening livelihoods in the medium term. Thirdly, it opens former pastoral areas to mining. Fourthly, it leaves the former nomads largely dependent on markets for their economic reproduction.

By broadening and intensifying market integration and production, WTO accession could exacerbate grassland degradation, the loss of lands and autonomy through sedentarisation, and the threats posed to livelihoods.

China's White Paper on Tibet's March Towards Modernization
(Released 8 November 2001) China seeks to justify its continued occupation of Tibet and its ruthless exploitation of its natural resources in advance of the WTO meeting in Qatar.

For the full text of the paper released by the Chinese government see the following documents: