Democratic Underground

The Globalization Puzzle
July 28, 2001
by Thomas Sturgess

Globalization is a big deal. It attracts big protests because it is a big issue. Whether you agree with it or not the biggest achievements of the Clinton administration were the creation of both the WTO and NAFTA. These organisations will be high on the political agenda in years to come.

Globalization has been the trend ever since Marconi invented telecommunications and international travel meant trade was measured in days, not months. We're in McLuhan's "global village" and issues like trade, poverty, war and peace, environment, and many more all equally affect us. Communication in the modern age is both global and instantaneous, as can be seen by the fact that I am writing this in Britain. This makes for an ever smaller world.

However, the ones who control the agenda of globalization are not the people of the world but the businesses of the world. Corporate interests control not just the global flow of capital but also the organisations that are there to oversee the global flow of capital. This allows all the crimes of globalization that we are all familiar with. From the Pfizer case in South Africa to the privatisation of the water supply in South America. And what compounds the crime is that these issues have been forced on poor nations by the WTO.

As their website says, "the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is the only international organisation dealing with the global rules of trade between nations." (www.wto.org) The main objective of the WTO is to ensure that free trade runs as smoothly as possible, much like the EU. However, because the EU takes into account such issues as workers rights and the environment the EU is liked by many on the left. Because the WTO does not it is despised.

This is not right. The WTO represents the best chance that we have of taming the worst excesses of globalization precisely because it is the organisation that regulates business globally. However, for globalization to be tamed the WTO needs reforming to that it can stop the powerful players in the market from abusing their position. The globalization of business is looking increasingly inevitable but the best solution to the problems that arise from this is the globalization of regulation on order to put a lid on that. Here are my proposals for reform.

  1. The WTO at the present time is undemocratic. The US sends 230 negotiators to the WTO where many nations do not send a single one. Therefore I propose that every nation send 1 representative to the WTO. It might even be a bit of an idea for nations to elect these representatives, as they will hold a great deal of power.
  2. A register of interests of the WTO should be created disclosing all financial interests of the members of the WTO. This should be public information.
  3. Ban all gifts and donations from businesses to the WTO. This will clear up any corruption hanging around the place.
  4. Increase the transparency of the WTO by making its meetings more public. (open up the meetings of the WTO to the media) No more meeting in secret! We need to know what is going on.
  5. Modify, or even abolish GATS (the General Agreement on Trade in Services). This agreement is the one which says that if there is just a little bit of a public service in private hands THEN THE WHOLE THING IS UP FOR GRABS. This is the agreement that has caused the privatisation of water services in South America that priced the poor out of their own water supplies and the Pfizer case in Africa. This agreement is in many ways indefensible and this must be addressed if the WTO is to have any credibility whatsoever.
  6. Finally, the issue of free trade must be confronted head on by the left. We need to show people the simple truth that there is a difference between free trade and free enterprise.

Free trade is where governments do not impede the process of buying and selling. Free trade is GOOD, as anyone who understands economics in any way whatsoever will tell you that. If we trade with poorer nations then they get our money and we get the products that we demand. Both sides win. It is by trading with poorer nations that they can grow and become prosperous like us.

Free enterprise is where businesses can do as they wish with regard to pollution, workers rights and a number of other issues that do not impede on the process of buying and selling goods and services. Free enterprise can also be good but if left unchecked it can hurt employees, customers and the environment. Republicans see labour and environmental regulations in other countries as being tantamount to protectionism but how can this be the case when the rules apply equally to both domestic and foreign businesses?

It is this sham which we must expose in order to reclaim free trade from the right. The definition of free trade put forward by the right is so wide ranging that it allows big business to intervene in areas where private business would not naturally operate. We need to support free trade but place sensible constraints on free enterprise where free enterprise impedes on people's rights and living standards. The WTO should be as good a vehicle as any for doing that.

 
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