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Alternatives To The APEC Agenda

29 September 1999

by Aziz Choudry, GATT Watchdog and Aotearoa/New Zealand APEC Monitoring Group

"APEC itself is almost dying, but unfortunately the agenda of APEC has spread rather widely, becoming the reality of the lives of the peoples in the region through the Asian economic crisis, through IMF and through WTO." Reiko Inoue, Co-President, Pacific Asia Resource Center, Japan.

The Aotearoa/New Zealand APEC Monitoring Group organised a highly successful programme of education and action throughout Aotearoa/New Zealand during 1999, culminating in a public meeting and two-day forum called "Alternatives To The APEC Agenda" in Auckland on the weekend of the APEC Leaders Summit (10-12 September).

Under the dark shadow of the continuing massacre in East Timor, 160 delegates from throughout Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region described the APEC agenda of trade and investment liberalisation as the new imperialism. Overseas speakers and participants came from Australia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Canada, Indonesia, Philippines, Bougainville, and the USA. Participants heard how poverty and deprivation has been created over and over again throughout the region, as the pain of New Zealand-style neoliberal experiments is inflicted on groups tragically unprepared for its consequences.

One of the APEC Monitoring Group's primary goals has been to help people in Aotearoa/New Zealand understand the link between APEC's free market goals and the destructive economic policies which have devastated this country and peoples' lives over the past 15 years, and to promote discussion on alternative policies and strategies to achieve economic, social and Treaty of Waitangi justice. Besides APEC, there was a strong focus on strategies to oppose attempts to begin a "Millennium round" of negotiations at November's WTO Ministerial Meeting in Seattle.

Over 400 people attended the public meeting on 10 September, addressed by Jane Kelsey of the APEC Monitoring Group, Moses Havini of the Bougainville Interim Government, Tame Iti, a Maori sovereigntist from the Tuhoe people, and Antonio Tujan, Executive Director of IBON Databank, Philippines. A spontaneous march and rally followed the public meeting when around 200 people marched to the Carlton Hotel where New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley was staying.

The forum was divided into three sections - Implications of the APEC Agenda, Alternatives, and Strategies.

Maori lawyer Moana Jackson, Director of Nga Kaiwhakamarama I Nga Ture (Maori Legal Service) opened the conference with an address outlining that globalisation is part and parcel of the same colonisation process that has sought to commodify all things for private profit.

He cut through the globalisation and neo-liberal jargon to situate APEC and similar projects exactly where they are.

* APEC is the continuation of the colonisation that the Indigenous Peoples of Aotearoa/New Zealand have faced for nearly 200 years and which other Indigenous Peoples have faced for over 500 years.

* This colonisation, although not new, comes in new and different forms. We need to analyse these and learn how to respond to them.

* Opposition and alternatives to this colonisation can only be addressed if we deal with its full history not just the last 10 mutated APEC years.

* In Aotearoa/New Zealand alternatives must be built on the understanding and acceptance of the Treaty and the right of tangata whenua (Maori) to self-determination, sovereignty or tino rangatiratanga.

A panel of speakers addressed the implications of the APEC agenda first from the international perspective and then from a local perspective.

Although the contexts were different, the themes were similar.

- colonisation is responsible for the growing impoverishment and injustice in the world

- the institutions of APEC/World Trade Organisation/International Monetary Fund/World Bank are the white knights of this colonisation

- this colonisation impacts on Indigenous Peoples, women, workers, smaller countries

- this colonisation is now impacting on life-forms - the promoters of this colonisation are concerned that the victims of the colonisation are not accepting how 'good' it is for them. APEC governments will be spending millions of dollars over the next period to "manufacture consent" through public relations campaigns.

Jaggi Singh, an organiser with APEC Alert which opposed APEC in Vancouver in 1997 spoke of the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Canada's domestic market reforms. Saul Landau, an award-winning US independent filmmaker outlined the devastating effects of NAFTA on Mexico.

Reiko Inoue, Co-President of Pacific Asia Resource Centre (PARC), Tokyo, and Changgeun Lee from Policy and Information Centre for International Solidarity, Korea, spoke of the impacts of the free trade and investment, free market agenda in their respective countries.

"With their very basic public services eliminated, the people of the world are forced into a 'race toward the bottom' at a national/international level for their right to survive. No matter how dismal their working environment may be, no matter how meagre their wages, people cannot help but accept and work in these conditions. This is because in the age of neo-liberalism, the purpose of the state is to provide a set of conditions most favorable to the capitalists and most oppressive to the workers, all wrapped in the ideology of gaining the 'competitive edge.' More rights and more privileges to 'foreign investors'! Endless competition toward the bottom for the people of the world!", said Changgeun Lee.

In a keynote address introducing the "Alternatives" session, Antonio Tujan, Executive Director of IBON Databank, Manila, said:

"Our response to neoliberalism cannot simply be a return to Keynesian economics of greater state intervention to prevent unbridled monopoly capitalism. Neoliberalism has in fact exposed in all its nakedness the violence and greed of capitalism. It is not our wont and interest to strengthen capitalism through Keynesian neo-classical policies.

"Neither can our response be to seek narrow nationalist protection from foreign inroads without critically pursuing equitable social benefits from trade and other economic endeavors for our peoples and communities. This would simply be strengthening and protection for our own bourgeoisie which are actually tied to global monopoly capital and whose interest is simply protecting itself while ensuring the opening up of other countries for their own benefit."

In the same session, Bien Molina, from Hong Kong-based Asian Migrant Center noted:

"Parallel "people's fora" on APEC have become a steady feature of the annual APEC summits. Indeed, this is already the 6th alternative forum since the daring 1994 Bogor meeting staged by a handful of anti-APEC activists.

"Each year, the question of "alternatives to APEC" crops up. But each year, we basically manage only to elaborate on our critique of neoliberal globalisation, but hardly come up with coherent ideas on alternatives. In fact, repetitious debates about whether to "reject" or "engage" APEC continue to surface each year, despite the fact that the APEC neoliberal philosophy has been clearly rejected since the 1995 Kyoto forum."

"The debate will continue to stagnate at the "reject-engage" level until we qualitatively raise the discussion to the level of the substance of the alternatives. What is our alternative to the APEC/neoliberal agenda?"

Antonio Tujan urged: "We must fight for the peoples' alternatives to globalization. It is for us to develop these models, to work on these models as we advance our resistance to globalization. In fact, this resistance stands as our first and most important alternative to globalization.

"Models for working alternatives to globalization are also drawn from our own daily experiences and from that of our communities. And finally, these models are rooted in our histories as peoples and as communities."

Speaking about APEC, the WTO, and the G-7, after outlining his people's struggle against transnational mining operations and for self-determination, Moses Havini, International Representative of the Bougainville People's Congress, said:

"These "exclusive clubs" have a long list of "sins" as observed by this conference. Where our own governments have virtually lost control and given our sovereignty away by allowing, for example, free trade and investment to foreign governments and TNCs into our lives. A free run of unlimited exploitation by these "sharks" of our Pacific resources such as timber, fish, minerals, workers' rights and other natural resources which could well make our Pacific, a "barren" place in the not too distant future."

"In strategising for the future let us just simply take CONTROL and RECLAIM our SOVEREIGNTY. Firstly, for Indigenous Peoples of their right to Self-determination; and secondly for the rest of us, for all our human rights both collective and individual; those rights that we used to enjoy once upon a time, before colonisation and neoliberalism hit our shores."

Other speakers included Leonie Pihama, Maori educationalist, Peter Wills, Biologist and Genetic Engineering activist, Prue Hyman, feminist economist, Jane Kelsey, author of "The New Zealand Experiment" and "Reclaiming The Future", Bill Rosenberg, researcher for Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, Mereana Pitman, a Maori decolonisation educator, GATT Watchdog organiser Aziz Choudry, Crispin Beltran, Chairman of Kilusang Mayo Uno, Philippines, Angeline Greensill, Maori sovereigntist, John Minto, of Quality Public Education Coalition, Leigh Cookson of APEC Monitoring Group, Robert Reid of the Trade Union Federation, and Radha D'Souza of Asia-Pacific Workers Solidarity Links. Tim Howard and Alistair Shaw, recently returned from working as observers in East Timor, spoke on the critical situation there.

The forum ended with a march and rally of 400 people against APEC on Sunday 12th.

Workshop topics were:

Reorganising Labour; Privatisation/Local Campaigns; Education; Environment and Health; Investment; Democratisation; Local government/politics; Church and social justice; International cooperation; Free trade agreements.

Further details about the Alternatives To The APEC Agenda forum, factsheets, papers from the conference, and other information are available at or from PO Box 1905, Christchurch, Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Workshop outcomes will be posted on the site shortly.

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