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APEC 2001 Exploiters of Terrorism - GATT Watchdog

APEC: Dying Economic Forum Cynically Seeks to Revive Free Trade Agenda by Cashing in on September 11

As officials, ministers and Leaders of the 21 APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) member economies meet in Shanghai, GATT Watchdog has accused advocates of free trade and investment of exploiting popular sentiment and war hysteria in the wake of the September 11 attacks to add new impetus to a discredited market model of economic development and a regional forum going nowhere fast. Yesterday, APEC foreign and trade ministers agreed on "the critical importance and urgency" for the launch of a new round of global trade talks under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

GATT Watchdog has been at the forefront of New Zealand opposition to free trade and investment for many years and was involved in mobilising opposition to APEC when the Shipley government hosted the 1999 APEC meetings.

"In 1999 we said that APEC itself is dying slowly. It has been on life support for several years now. We warned that internal tensions among the 21 APEC countries would paralyse efforts to speed up and broaden trade and investment liberalisation. When the Seattle WTO talks dissolved in disarray, we were proved right. The tide has turned even further against the economic model promoted by APEC and the WTO over the last two years. In desperation the cheerleaders of economic liberalisation at APEC are trying to cash in on the September 11 events to revive the forum and its goals, " says GATT Watchdog spokesman, Aziz Choudry.

"GATT Watchdog has always maintained that APEC was primarily a forum for trying to build regional support for deals in other arenas like the WTO, rather than for reviving the economies of the region. APEC is nearly dead but it has spawned bilateral and sub-regional trade and investment agreements such as last year's Singapore-New Zealand Closer Economic Partnership agreement and the one currently being negotiated between New Zealand and Hong Kong which seek to stitch up a web of deals to deliver the outcomes which APEC - and the WTO itself - has failed to achieve."

"With only a few weeks to go before the WTO Ministerial meeting, the divisions within the 142 member global trade body remain as wide as they did in Seattle.

"Some hope that the US-led "war against terrorism" could help forge consensus and rally domestic support for economic liberalisation. The US government is making an all-out effort to capitalise on September 11 to advance its own economic and political agendas - to "counter terror with trade" as US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick puts it. The New Zealand government seems to be meekly dancing to its tune."

"It is truly sickening to see the cynical manner in which many of the region's most ardent cheerleaders for free trade and investment view the September 11 attacks as a lifeline to push their cause harder and faster. Around the world the free market crusaders have rushed to equate the so-called war against terrorism with support for free trade and the battle to open up the world's economies. Yet the fist of the free market has long been used as an instrument of terror against millions worldwide through structural adjustment policies advanced by such groupings as APEC. The USA and its allies are far more interested in making the world safe for global capital to flow freely across borders than in making the world safe for all of its peoples."

"We have long been told APEC is an economic forum and that non-trade issues have no place on its agenda. APEC has tried to pretend that economies can exist in some sort of vacuum. We have long maintained that economic issues cannot be isolated from social, political and environmental issues in the way that APEC has tried to do. Yet clearly when it suits, APEC meetings will grasp at events that are not narrowly defined as "trade-related" in an attempt to conceal the failure of the forum to be anything more than a talkfest.

"In April 1999 at an Alternatives to the APEC Agenda conference in Christchurch, we specifically identified war as a logical consequence of market competition and pointed that historically war has always followed free trade.

"The shift of focus from economics to politics in the Shanghai APEC meeting is a clear vindication of this view."

"While governments in APEC member countries like New Zealand and the USA preach to the rest of the world about the desirability and inevitability of open markets and free trade, they are providing massive bailouts to privatised industries at home. If the free trade and investment, free market model is so fantastic, why are market forces not now deemed sufficient to stabilise these industries?"

"The Helen Clark-led government seems as gung-ho about trade and investment liberalisation as its predecessors. We have always maintained that privatisation - part of the package of policies promoted by APEC - was about siphoning public wealth to private companies. The Air New Zealand crisis is a clear example that the privatisation process has come full circle. The public has lost out twice - first when it was privatised and then when it was bought back."

"The global free market agenda has led to deepening inequalities within and among countries, underdevelopment, environmental degradation, and increasing power of transnational corporations which dominate the global economy."

"An August 2000 report to the UN subcommittee on the protection of human rights called the WTO a "veritable" nightmare" for developing countries. It said WTO rules "reflect an agenda that serves only dominant corporatist interests that already monopolise the area of international trade."

"There are many forms of terror afoot in the world. But once again those gathered at APEC have shown a callous disregard for the human havoc caused by the market policies which APEC promotes," said Mr Choudry.

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