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WTO and Globalization: Will Protestors Go to Doha?

By Najib Saab, Issue 42, September 2001


As Qatar prepares to host the next ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization, the anti-globalization movement continues to expand, and has garnered so far hundreds of thousands of protestors who came from 100 countries to the Italian city of Genoa a few weeks ago to protest the Summit of 8, and had previously hindered the WTO meeting 2 years ago in Seattle, U.S.A.


The national movement against globalization is spreading in all continents, and it is estimated that around 3 million people have participated in protestations against globalization since the Seattle incident. The Genoa meeting protestations attracted representatives of more than 700 organizations, who descended upon this Italian city to protest the Summit of 8, and transformed its streets into a war zone. Those protestors, who come from rich and poor countries alike, believe that the current globalization trends are a conspiracy to increase industrial nation’s stronghold over developing countries, and further secure the control of the rich over the poor. They also believe that the requirements for free world trade under discussion do not provide equal balance, but will lead to increasing the gap among countries and within the societies themselves. The protestors go as far as accusing the leaders of rich countries of conspiring with the leaders of developing countries against their peoples, in order to hold on to their powers.


The anti-globalization movement, born in the streets of Seattle about two years ago, lost its first martyr during the altercations with the police in the streets of Genoa. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, objected to the media’s coverage of the events, saying that they allocated 10 times more time to covering the protestations, than for announcing the summit’s decisions with respect to decreasing third world debts by turning part of them into grants, and establishing an international fund to handle health related crisis in poor countries. However, the protestors say that the promises to decrease the debts were not associated with exact numbers or a definite time frame, as if those promises are to be used as a carrot to entice and subdue developing countries, thus paving the way to imposing unfair restrictions upon them. As for the health aid estimated to be around 1.3 billion US$, the amount needed to deal with urgent health problems in poor countries, at the top of which is AIDS, is actually 10 times the allocated amount.


Those opposing globalization also have their doubts as to the real motives of rich countries, alluding to the matters of climate change and agriculture. The United States opposed the whole world by refusing to commit to decreasing its industry’s carbon dioxide emissions since that would harm the US economy. European countries insist on economical support strategies for their farmers, even if that led to unbalanced competition with developing countries in an open international market. While the global economy suffered a set back, there emerged an unspoken agreement to a truce between the United Sates and Europe on some industrial matters that where causing problems, from bananas to hormone injected meat. Both parties are now stressing the urgent necessity to unrestricted international trade, in order to stimulate the economy and avert the danger of recession in industrial countries. Are developing countries doomed to be crushed by the struggle of the mighty? Those countries will no longer stand for broken promises, made during previous trade negotiations, to open western markets to their products. Whereas taxes on industrial products decreased from 40% to 4% in the past 50 years, taxes on agricultural products remained between 40%-50%. This has a negative effect on the economy of developing countries, who find themselves part of an unbalanced equation, since rich countries spent the past 50 years drafting the laws of international trade according to their own benefit.


Despite all this, poor countries will benefit more if they participate in the coming negotiations in Doha as a unified front, because the only other choice is that each country will enter the negotiations alone with the major countries, to be able to reach their markets. Since China is expected to join the WTO at the Doha meeting, developing countries will have the benefit of a strong ally in the negotiations.


Developing countries should stop being paranoid and lose their habit of blaming outside forces for their problems. The responsibility of establishing modern government systems in their societies is up to them, these systems will give people the opportunity to take part in decision making and opposing what they do not agree to, they will also have the right to work, produce and partake in the resources. Free producing societies provide their countries with strength to acquire an advanced spot within the world order, whereas oppressed societies and their countries will drown in history.


Equity in international trade cannot mean protecting squander and incompetence. Developing countries have to come up with sound governance practices to enhance freedom of thought, economy, cooperation and production, creating opportunities for fair competition, which is the only guarantee to incite creativity and rationalizing means of production and consumption. We cannot accept in this day and age that the theories on protecting local production become a cover up to protect ineffective methods, or an excuse to lag behind technologically, socially and economically. Rich countries should also realize, very soon, that clearing the way for transferring technology to developing countries and supporting it with the economy, education and modern services, are necessary investments and a price that should be paid to achieve world stability, which will not be realized as long as 3 billion people, who constitute half of the world population, live under the poverty line on less than 2 dollars per day.


Qatar has decided to host, in November 2001, the fourth ministerial meeting for the least popular international organizations. When thousands of representatives and anti-globalization protestors descend upon Doha, they will have to decide the future of this organization, which might be, despite all opposition, the best possible means for developing countries, as a group, to attain more evenhanded stipulations, in an age where globalization has become a fait accompli.

Arab Environment in 10 Years
ARAB ENVIRONMENT IN 10 YEARS crowns a decade of the series of annual reports produced by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab environment. It tracks and analyzes changes focusing on policies and governance, including level of response and engagement in international environmental treaties. It also highlights developments in six selected priority areas, namely water, energy, air, food, green economy and environmental scientific research.
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