July 28, 2001
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ban all gifts and donations from businesses to the WTO.
This will clear up any corruption hanging around the place.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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.