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Doha Spells Disaster for Development


18 November 2001

Anti-globalization protesters are accused of having no positive agenda of their own. But there is an environmental alternative to globalization, which can protect and raise living standards in both north and south

To hear the EU, the British Government and the WTO congratulating themselves on getting a new WTO Trade Round started, and even calling it - with breathtaking hypocrisy - a "Development Round", you could be forgiven for thinking this must have been some kind of victory for the poor. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Doha spells disaster for poor people.

As a member of the European Parliament's official delegation, I traveled to the World Trade talks in Doha last week. It was a quiet event - the very opposite of the blanket coverage of its previous 1999 debacle, the "Battle of Seattle." Skulking in a small state, allowing hardly any protesters and being knocked off the news agenda by the war, it must have seemed like the good old days to the trade officials - meeting away from demonstrations and massive press interest to further open up markets to the benefit of corporations and at the price of ever rising global inequality.

But the absence of mass protests in Doha does not signal any let up in the campaign against corporate globalization. To the contrary, major public demonstrations took place in towns and cities around the world in the run-up to the meeting, and over 100 NGOs from both North and South - those lucky enough to get one of the very limited number of visas on offer - were present and active in Doha.

Michael Jacobs in his article last week warned that anti-globalisation cannot help the developing world. That depends on how you define globalization. Those of us whose campaign is against economic globalization. - the ever tighter integration of national economies into one giant global economy - are convinced that resistance can and will help the developing world. Indeed Southern activists have been in the vanguard of such activities. Last week, for example, hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers joined a demonstration in Delhi specifically to protest about current WTO rules.

They know that if they are forced to open their agricultural markets to the rich North - according to the principles of free trade that Jacobs so applauds - their livelihoods will be devastated.

Developing country delegates at the WTO Ministerial also knew about the havoc open markets can wreak. Rather than agreeing to immediate negotiations on further industrial tariff reductions, for example, as demanded by the EU and US, they called for a prior study to be undertaken on the effects of such tariff reductions on local industries and jobs. Their request was ignored, and as a result, they face further decimation of their economies. In Senegal, for example, previous commitments to open their markets by cutting industrial tariffs by almost half has led to the loss of one third of all manufacturing jobs. The same story is repeated throughout the poorer countries. Indeed, more than 80 countries now have per capita incomes lower than they were a decade or more ago, and as the United Nations Development Programme points out, it is often those countries which are highly "integrated" into the global economy that are becoming more marginal. Even the IMF admits that "in recent decades, nearly one fifth of the population has regressed - arguably one of the greatest economic failures of the twentieth century."

Michael Jacobs challenges critics of the WTO to come up with a new system of Trade and Investment rules designed to prioritize poverty reduction. The Green Party, whose supporters he later lambastes as "simplistic anti-capitalists", has done precisely that. In a report, Time to Replace Globalization., launched to coincide with Doha last week, we detail a set of alternative trade rules which are designed to replace the WTO's programme of ever more open markets in ever more ruthless competition with each other, with a post-globalisation alternative in order to achieve genuine sustainability. These rules would strengthen democratic control of trade, stimulating industries and services that benefit local communities, and rediversifying local and national economies.

According to this new model, over time there would be a gradual transition away from dependence on international export markets (with every country trying to compete with each other, leading to a downward spiral of social and environmental standards) towards the provision of as many goods and services as feasible and appropriate locally and nationally.

Developing countries would be given significant support to help them with this transition. For example, the WTO's current rules require that imported and locally produced goods be treated equally. Thus, under WTO rules, it is unlawful for governments to favor, or otherwise promote, domestic products above imported goods. Under our alternative rules, domestic products would be given priority where their production increases local employment with decent wages. Over time, quantitative controls on exports or imports through tariffs, quotas or bans would be permitted to this end.

Today's rules also prohibit discrimination between products because of concerns about the damaging or unethical processes that have been used to produce or harvest them. Under the rules of relocalization, members would be permitted and encouraged to make distinctions between products on this basis in order to further the aims of sustainable development.

Perhaps most vital for developing countries are the rules governing agriculture. According to WTO rules, adequate protective barriers to foster domestic farming and subsidies to support poorer farmers are not generally allowed. Under our alternative rules, protective barriers could be introduced to enable countries to reach maximum self-sufficiency in food, where feasible.

Such policies have been branded as 'protectionist' - but we would be willing to accept such a label, if it is understood that what we want to protect are efficient national policies of cost internalization, health and safety standards, and a reasonable minimum standard of living for citizens, both North and South.

Historically, these benefits have come from national policies, not from global economic integration. Protecting these hard-won social gains from blind standards-lowering competition in the global market is what we are interested in - not, as some would caricature it, the protection of some inefficient entrepreneur who wants to grow mangoes in Manchester.

A growing movement, North and South, has the courage to suggest that more than one economic system is possible. We have shown that alternatives do exist, and trade rules can be rewritten to support them. In the interests of wider equity and security, it is vital that they are.

Caroline Lucas
European Parliament MP, Green, for South-East England.
Published in the Observer Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001.



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