A turning point for world trade?
By John Cavanagh and Robin Broad, THE BALTIMORE SUN
A GENERATION from now, analysts may look back at the World Trade Organization summit in Mexico as a turning point in the increasingly contentious globalization debate.
Why? Because for the first time in decades of globalization negotiations, democracy trumped narrow elite interests. India, Brazil, China and nearly two dozen other poor nations, representing more than half of the globe's population, negotiated as a bloc. With backing from a wide array of citizen groups, they rejected the meeting's final text, which, as usual, was crafted to address the corporate interests of richer nations. In short, the many derailed a trade agenda for the few.
A number of these poor countries, which came to be known as the Group of 21, were responding to strong campaigns from citizen groups in their countries for a dramatic shift in the globalization agenda. The two of us spent the summer crisscrossing one of these nations, the Philippines, as small-scale farmers, workers and anti-poverty activists pressed their government to stand up for their interests at the WTO summit.
Their message to the Philippine government was simple, and it was aimed at the heart of the WTO agenda:
1. Don't let Cargill and other giant agribusiness firms from rich nations use their government's lavish farm subsidies to dump their corn, rice and wheat on our markets at low prices that displace millions of peasant farmers.
2. In the era of Enron and WorldCom, don't give in to U.S. government and corporate demands that vital public services such as health care, education and water be offered for sale to those same global firms.
3. Don't agree to new negotiations that will further handcuff governments' ability to choose to steer incentives away from foreign firms toward smaller, locally based domestic firms.
We met with these Filipino activists again at the Mexican WTO summit as they were joined by an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 protesters from across Mexico and the rest of the world. Barricades manned by thousands of Mexican police prevented most of the protesters from getting within miles of their government's negotiators, who were holed up in some of the world's most luxurious hotels to discuss what WTO negotiators brazenly called a "development agenda."
Deeply frustrated by the metal barricades and the unfair rules they protected, a South Korean farmer, Lee Kyung Hae, plunged a knife into his chest on the meetings' opening day.
Mr. Lee took his life to dramatize, in his own words, that "multinational corporations and a small number of big WTO members officials are leading an undesirable globalization [that is] inhumane, environmentally distorting, farmer-killing and undemocratic."
His suicide note lamented the dumping of subsidized food in poorer countries such as South Korea by global corporations based in wealthier countries. He asked for a global trade system that would allow poor countries to offer adequate protection to their farmers.
The flashpoint of the WTO meeting was agriculture, but the democratic revolt was about far more. The developing countries' negotiators in the suites and protesters in the streets were rejecting the "one-size-fits-all" development model of the WTO that is a relic of the bygone Reagan era. Financier George Soros characterizes that model as "market fundamentalism."
By derailing the failed globalization agenda of the WTO, these poor countries and an increasingly restless global public are not rejecting the necessity of global rules on trade and investment. To the contrary, proposals abound for replacing the obsolete WTO approach with fairer rules and institutions.
For example, citizen leaders under the auspices of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG) have proposed rules that would allow governments to put legitimate checks and balances on trade and investment to meet national goals - so Mexico could protect its corn farmers and South Korea and Japan could protect their rice farmers as vital to their culture. Such new rules would shift the priority from increasing trade and investment at all costs to creating a framework that steers these economic flows to build healthy communities, dignified work and a clean environment.
Now the real debate begins.
John Cavanagh directs the Institute for Policy Studies and co-authored Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World is Possible (Berrett-Koehler, 2002). Robin Broad, a professor of international development at American University, is the author of Global Backlash: Citizen Initiatives for a Just World Economy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
The International Forum on Globalization is an alliance of leading activists, scholars, economists, researchers, and writers-representing 60 organizations in 25 countries-that was formed in 1994 to stimulate new thinking, joint activity, and public education in response to economic globalization. IFG is the intellectual brain trust behind much of the anti-globalization/living democracy movement that has become so visible because of the protests in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and various other places. Besides leading the intellectual discussion of globalization, IFG has also been a major organizing force through its public "teach-ins," beginning with its historic first teach-in in November 1995 in New York City that attracted more than 1,500 people (to an event that was designed for up to 400 people) and that effectively launched the newly published When Corporations Rule the World on to bestsellerdom (when David Korten was one of the speakers).
“Nations whose NATIONALISM is destroyed are subject to ruin.” - Colonel Muhammar Qaddafi, 1942-, Libyan Political and Military Leader
"We shall be better and braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to enquire, than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowing and no use in seeking to know what we do not know..." - SOCRATES
"Upang maitindig natin ang bantayog ng ating lipunan, kailangang radikal nating baguhin hindi lamang ang ating mga institusyon kundi maging ang ating pag-iisip at pamumuhay. Kailangan ang rebolusyon, hindi lamang sa panlabas, kundi lalo na sa panloob!"
--Apolinario Mabini La Revolucion Filipina (1898)
"The selfish spirit of commerce knows no country, and feels no passion or principle but that of gain" - Thomas Jefferson, 1809ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 18, 2003
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