Saturday, September 13, 2003

Cancun: the poor are revolting

It's good to see the US, EU and Japan on the back foot at Cancun. Rather than spouting the "free trade is good, free trade is great" mantra, the media are focusing on the festering sore at the heart of the WTO: the lack of reciprocation by rich countries.

The primary purpose of the WTO is to bring about free trade by the elimination of trade barriers. The underlying assumption is that such elimination will be reciprocal - "I'll get rid of mine if you get rid of yours". In practice, however, the poor countries (who even the World Bank agrees need some protection to establish industries) have been strongarmed into doing their bit, while the US, EU and Japan maintain strict protectionist regimes. As a result, industries in poor nations have been devastated, unable to compete either domesticly or internationally due to subsidised dumping and high tariffs.

Every WTO round the poor countries demand that the rich ones reciprocate, and extract a promise from them to lower their trade barriers. And every time the rich countries extract further concesssions from the poor in exchange for doing what they'd already agreed to do - then renege on their end of the deal.

But now the scam is up. After years of sitting around the table, bending over and getting nothing in return, the poor countries have have clubbed together to do something about it. Their chief weapon is a threat to prevent any progress (or even the start of negotiations) on "new issues" (things the rich countries care about - intellectual property, trade in services, and the elimination of state provided healthcare and education) until there is actual tangible progress on agriculture. And an even poorer group of countries is not just calling for the elimination of US subsidies on cotton, but demanding compensation as well.

In short, the poor are finally revolting - and it's about fucking time.

Militants flex their muscles - New Zealand Herald
Time for transformation - George Monbiot
The global benefits of equality - Joseph Stiglitz
Kick all agricultural subsidies (kickAAS)