Thursday, July 31, 2008

Spinning Hypocrisies

Doha Development Round talks collapse

After seven years of moving forward and then back-tracking, what began as a sense of euphoria now just ended us as an obscenity ended quickly in the night. Or, if you prefer less melodrama, so many high hopes have been defeated by the realities of world trade.

The Doha declaration said rather boldly:
International trade can play a major role in the promotion of economic development and the alleviation of poverty. We recognize the need for all our peoples to benefit from the increased opportunities and welfare gains that the multilateral trading system generates. The majority of WTO Members are developing countries. We seek to place their needs and interests at the heart of the Work Programme adopted in this Declaration.
Stripped of all its drama, essentially what has happened is that all this rush for "free trade" fails to admit that trade isn't really free. Not while there's a stamp on our products that says "Made in ..."

These talks, at least for this so-called Development Round, have been going on for seven years, and every now and then something-or-other brings up a "challenge" to the viability of these talks. The melodrama about "last chances" is dragging out even longer than your average soap opera. The biggest joke on all of these talks that even as multilateralism has been represented through the 153-member World Trade Organization, countries are racing to ink bilateral trade agreements that either negate or render the WTO useless.

The truth is, business and trade still spin some hypocrisies, whether in the guise of free trade or smaller government. " Despite all the platitudes, no one has gone far enough.

As long as the spirit of nationalism and "people's welfare" take precedence, there will be no such thing as free --- and therefore no such thing as fair --- trade. The European Union, the U.S. and Canada have basically made life harder for foreign famrmers to complete by granting hefty subsidies --- billions of dollars' (or euros') worth. Likewise, the standards for the entry of foreign food products, the insistence on a archaic intellectual property system, and some other non-tariff barriers have all made it impossible for imports to survive in their marketplace.

It's the same old neocolonial line --- open your countries so we can sell to you, but let's take a raincheck on whether you can sell to us. They would rather protect the welfare of a few millions of their own famers than allow the rest of the farmers of the world have better lives. So it comes at no surprise that developed countries keep on pushing to accelerate the reduction of tariffs for manufactured goods while doing little (or nothing) in removing subsidies on farm products or allowing the freedom of movement of natural persons.

Subsidies have made the export of farm products from the developed to the developing countries an exercise in dumping, and the only chip that developing countries have --- cheap labor --- is continually disregarded. There is no reason why well-trained lawyers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals shouldn't find work anywhere in the world so long as they are competent to do the work. And this doesn't mind finding a veteran banker frying donuts at a supermarket after getting his immigrant visa, or encountering a seasoned health professional hauling vegetables from the truck to the local green grocer.

These talks are all hot air to perpetuate the system of domination of the old order. Free trade and minimal government are grand maxims, but its barrels must be able to point to the right way. It is no wonder that the emerging economies of the world --- Brazil, India, China, the African states and the Tigers of Southeast Asia --- have done ther best to sandbag the progress of tariff reduction. Because in doing so, they protect their own producers and industrialists (most likely their own local hegemonists and oligarchs) squeeze out maximum profits.

Where does that leave the ordinary consumer? In dire straits indeed.

The language of the Declaration would lead one to believe that there is a new hope for the world - especially since the talks came at the heels of the disruptions in Seattle and what's more, the fateful events of 9/11. It's all a grand notion --- the altruism of rich countries helping poor countries to grow. But in the running of affairs, be it in business or government, would reveal that there is no such thing. As mentioned by one columnist:

No one wants to be completely unilateral; if they did, we wouldn’t need these talks at all. What kind of altruist expects something in return?
So what use language then? Ah, there's the rub --- it ensures negotiators and diplomats are firmly ensconced in their lofty positions, that lobbyists will continue to curry favor, that the barons of business and the leaders of government keep on doing their waltz. Meantime, it's business as usual at the top.

As for the rest of the bottom of the pyramid, we warm up to the platitudes (alas for hope) while our stomachs remain empty.

No comments: