Column: WTO Protests - Beware Bullshit Alert
See also... Cartoon by Kez Bizarre of Riwaka
The WTO meeting in Geneva is NOT being attended by all the nations of the World - including China - for the sole purpose of attacking US Labour conditions. Kofi Annan is not in Seattle to try to hand over the world to a global conspiracy. Scoop’s Alastair Thompson backgrounds the WTO meeting in Seattle.
Many elements on the left in the US involved in today's protests are way out of line.
While the protestors claim to be on the side of the angels. This is actually all about protectionism, not solutions.
And while it is accompanied by all the theatrics of the Green movement - and other genuine concerns - this is not about global peace. It is about maintaining a position of isolationism - keeping out the world's problems - shutting the doors. Most particularly it is about pushing Bill Clinton and Congress to be cautious about domestic US trade liberalisation.
It is about protecting a US way of life financed through living off the back of the rest of the world - whilst periodically bombing someone to keep it in line.
When issues of National Sovereignty are raised in the context of these US protests, they are issues related solely to US national sovereignty. They are not trying to protect Vietnamese or South African, or New New Zeland, national sovereignty.
Rather than part of a global conspiracy - the WTO is in fact an annoyance to the US interests who would otherwise continue to advance hegemonic industrialization and super-capitalism by their own rules. The WTO is now so inclusive - like the UN - that it is beginning to be a threat.
Criticial in the forces at play now are food safety issues, particularly GE, which are finally even coming to America - and which are likely to seriously threaten the ability of US exporters to export their product.
The WTO is where the shakedown on these issues will most probably be fought out. But many in the US would rather not subscribe to a rule of law which does not run in their favour.
Kofi Annan and President Clinton are attending because they see in this meeting the seeds of hope - seen in East Timor - that cooperation and the rule of law may provide a way to sort out complex problems of global economics and security.
The UN and the WTO are the enemy of both the hard US left and the hard US Right. The labour movement - bitterly opposed to sharing wealth with poor neighbours to the south - and George W. Bush - and his cronies - who want to stay in the business of building super-weapons.
I attach below views expressed at the Geneva Meeting of the WTO by world leaders from Fidel Castro to Tony Blair to Nelson Mandela to Clinton. They do not disclose a conspiracy to stuff up the world - but quite the reverse a desire to improve it.
Beware there is bullshit about..
US President Bill Clinton's State of the Nation Address of February 1 1999.
"...I also ask you to support creating a freer and fairer trading system
I'd like to say something really serious to everyone in this chamber in both parties. I think trade has divided us, and divided Americans outside this chamber for too long. Somehow we have to find a common ground on which business and workers and environmentalists and farmers and government can stand together. I believe these are the things we ought to all agree on. So let me try.
First we ought to tear down barriers, open markets and expand trade. But at the same time we must ensure that ordinary citizens in all countries actually benefit from trade - a trade that promotes the dignity of work, and the rights of workers and protects the environment.
When you come right down to it, now that the world economy is becoming more and more integrated, we have to do in the world what we spent the better part of this century doing here at home. We have got to put a human face on the global economy.
Tonight I issue a call to the nations of the world to join the United States in a new round of global trade negotiations to expand exports of services, manufacturers and farm products...
No nation in history has had the opportunity and responsibility we now have to shape a world that is more peaceful more secure more free."
At a WTO assembly of world leaders in Geneva in May last year - 1998 - for the 50th anniversary of the GATT - President Clinton invited the world to the US this year to begin the next phase of World Trade Negotiations. The Meeting which he is trying to hold today.
The 1998 WTO leaders meeting was held in the setting of a worsening Asian Economic Crisis. There was talk at the time in diplomatic circles of calling the trade round the "Clinton Round" and holding the first meetings in Washington. It is now the "Millenium Round".
In his invitation speech in Geneva Clinton began by quoting President Roosevelt.
"A basic essential to permanent peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all nations. 'Freedom from fear' is eternally linked with 'freedom from want.'"
He then pointed out a few facts about the growth in world trade over the past five decades.
- There has been a 15 fold increase in world trade since WWII
- Growth in the number of signatories to multilateral trade rules from 23 nations post-war to a group of 132 nations with 31 more wanting to join.
- Growth in world trade in just four years - since the beginning of the WTO - of 25%.
The President described the Uruguay Round as "the biggest tax cut in world history" - $76 billion a year when fully implemented.
He then got down to business.
"Today, let me state unequivocally that America is committed to open trade among nations." He said.
"Economic freedom and open trade have brought unprecedented prosperity in the 20th century - they will widen the circle of opportunity in the 21st Century."
He outlined seven objectives for the world leaders to achieve the goal.
- pursuit of an ever-more open global trading system; - recognition that in the new economy the way trade is conducted affects the lives of the world's citizens; - harmonise goals of increasing trade, bettering the environment and improving working conditions; - open the WTO to the scrutiny of the world; - ensuring the trading system fits the international age; - developing a global trading system that moves as fast as the marketplace.
"In an era in which product life cycles are measured in months," he said. "And information and money move around the globe in seconds, we can no longer afford to take seven years to finish a trade round, or let decades pass between identifying and acting on a trade barrier.
"We should explore what new type of trade negotiating round is best suited to the new economy. We should explore whether there is a way to tear down barriers without waiting for every issue in every sector to be resolved before any issue in any sector is resolved. We should do this in a way that is fair and balanced, that takes into account the needs of nations large and small, rich and poor. But I am confident we can go about the task of negotiating trade agreements in a way that is faster and better than today.
"Agriculture, for example, is at the heart of America's economy and many of yours -- and tearing down barriers to global trade is critical to meet the food needs of a growing world population. Starting next year, we should aggressively begin negotiations to reduce tariffs, subsidies, and other distortions that restrict productivity in agriculture. We must develop rules, rooted in science that will encourage the full fruits of biotechnology. And I propose that even before negotiations near conclusion, WTO Members should pledge to continue making annual tariff and subsidy reductions -- ensuring that there is no pause in reform."
NOTE: From a New Zealand perspective the Geneva meeting was extremely successful. At the meeting the US officially announced its intentions to support the Cairn's Group philosophy in the WTO.
Also speaking at the Geneva Meeting
UK PM TONY BLAIR
"Protectionism does not bring prosperity".
"More open markets and more trade mean growth and new jobs for the benefit of all our people."
BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT CARDOSO
"In world agricultural trade, Brazil and many other countries continue to witness with perplexity the operation of the greatest protectionist and subsidizing apparatus ever put together for the preservation of the interests of one sector. More than US$160 billion continues to be spent each year by developed countries so as to prevent their agriculture from being exposed to competition rules. And, what is more, so as also to preclude the application of those rules in third markets."
THE CROWN PRINCE OF MOROCCO - SIDI MOHAMMED
"Since the beginning of the 1990s developing countries have undoubtedly seen their growth accelerate, but overall the imbalances persist and are getting worse. The per capita gross domestic product in the G8 countries today is still 40 times greater than the average in the poorest countries of the planet.
"We must acknowledge that the global project which the pioneers of our system wished to put into place continues to be jeopardized by the plight of these hundreds of millions of people who will not indefinitely accept permanent exclusion from the great current of prosperity and progress sweeping onwards in the developed part of our world."
CUBAN PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO
"No nation, big or small, can be left out of this important institution, nor should it; and its admission cannot be subjected to humiliating conditions. The developing countries must fend off divisions. Unity is our only asset, the only guaranty in the defense of our legitimate aspirations.
"Those of us who were colonies yesterday and are still today enduring the consequences of backwardness, poverty and underdevelopment, we are the majority in this organization. Every one of us has the right to a vote and no one has the right to veto. We should turn this organization into an instrument of the struggle for a more just and better world. We should also count on those responsible statesmen, sensitive to our realities, who can undoubtedly be found in many developed countries."
SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA
President Mandela began his speech pointing out that when the GATT began after WWII there were only two African nation signatories - Rhodesia and the Republic of South Africa.
"We need not dwell on why they in particular entered the GATT. We do know that the peoples of Africa were not consulted. I and the vast majority of South Africans had no vote and were completely excluded from any such decisions," President Mandela said.
"We are firmly of the belief that the existence of the GATT, and now the World Trade Organization, as a rules-based system, provides the foundation on which our deliberations can build in order to improve."
President Mandela then moved to a warning.
"In seeking to build a better future we ignore the lessons of the past at our peril. Though international trade and investment have always been an integral part of the world economy, the extent to which all parties have benefited has depended on the circumstances in which they have taken place. The current process of globalization is no exception.
"If our constitution was blind to the reality of inequality and historical imbalances that prevent equal access to opportunity; then it would become a source of both actual and perceived injustice. Rules must be applied without fear or favour, but if they contain prescriptions that cannot be complied with by all, or if the results benefit too few, then injustice will emerge."
"Rules are respected when they are above expediency, in perception and in practice."
"Fifty years ago, when the founders of the GATT evoked the link between trade, growth and a better life, few could have foreseen such poverty, homelessness and unemployment as the world now knows.
"Few would have imagined that the exploitation of the world's abundant resources and a prodigious growth in world trade would have seen the gap between rich and poor widening. And few could have anticipated the burden of debt on many poor nations.
"As we celebrate what has been achieved in shaping the world trading system, let us resolve to leave no stone unturned in working together to ensure that our shared principles are everywhere translated into reality.
" As we enter the new millennium, let us forge a partnership for development through trade and investment."