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Views from the South: The Effects of Globalization and the WTO on Third World Countries

Violence erupted in Seattle at the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in December 1999. The backlash against globalization is widespread and involves many disparate groups: protectionist labor union members; environmentalists; and those opposed to sweatshops in Micronesia, genetically altered foods from Europe, or the killing of turtles by deep sea tuna fishermen from Japan and Taiwan. There is no common voice of opposition. As Friedman (2000) says, protestors appeared to lack any coherent reportable ideology, agenda, or strategy.

The short book under review, produced by the International Forum on Globalization, highlights perhaps the most alarming and so far underexamined consequences for the South of a world increasingly dominated by North-based global mega-corporations: unparalleled environmental degradation, unemployment, poverty, and famine.

In a series of essays, Views from the South presents, in a straightforward manner, case studies providing a compelling argument for protest: can we stand idly by and witness, for example, the destruction of the livelihoods and sustenance of millions of people as their economies industrialize? Today, a colonial-era pattern of dominance of Third World territories is being renewed by a few "master-countries," led by the United States. The WTO, in its current guise, is the agency representing these Northern neocolonial interests. TRIPS (Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights), NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), and TRIMS (Trade-Related Investment Measures) are all acronyms for Southern disempowerment.

Each of the authors in this volume reiterates some basic points regarding the devastating impact of globalization and its vehicles:

1. Despite the WTO claim that globalization is natural, inevitable, and evolutionary, and that it will bring prosperity and growth to all members of the global community, the reality is quite different. Globalization has siphoned the resources and knowledge of the poor of the South into the global marketplace, stripping them of their life-support systems, livelihoods, and lifestyles.

2. The WTO, run by an oligarchy of countries (the United States, Japan, the European Union, and Canada), claims to protect poorer states from unilateral actions of stronger ones by providing uniform rules and dispute settlement mechanisms for global trade. In truth there is a gross imbalance in bargaining and negotiating capacities between the North and South because they have vastly different strengths, resources, interests, and aims. If the WTO was a democratic organization, it would be far more sensitive and responsive to the visions and wishes of the South.

3. By joining the WTO, developing countries give up their power to impose conditions on the entry of foreign comparties. This liberalization of investment has enabled cheaper goods and services to swamp southern markets, often replacing what is locally made. Local operators are either wiped out by the competition or taken over, leading to unprecedented retrenchment and dislocation.

One of the authors, Dr. Vandana Shiva of India's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, considers global free trade in food and agriculture to be the world's biggest refugee creation program. India, for example, has seen a shift from production of food crops to cotton for export. The amount of land dedicated to the production of "white gold" has tripled. Profits are high, but so too are the costs. Pesticide use has increased. Traditionally, farmers relied upon open-pollenated seed which could be saved and reused, but corporations demand hybrid seed which must be purchased annually. These costs can only be met by taking out high interest loans from the same companies that sell the hybrid seed and pesticides. Too many soon find themselves buried under the weight of unpayable debt.

My principal criticism of this text is that it is somewhat repetitive and does not give sufficient attention to the sorts of issues raised by Friedman in The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Friedman argues, for instance, that despite the many setbacks, a majority of people in the South still want to partake of globalization's benefits and embrace the golden arches of MacDonalds. They do not want to return to their old, closed, regulated systems and give up trying for a better lifestyle. Authors such as Shiva, however, make a compelling case for the need for a new paradigm governing food systems. Genocidal market competition must be replaced by ethical trading, fair trade, and new rules of North-South cooperation. As Shiv states, "The centralized undemocratic rules and structures of the WTO that are establishing global corporate rule based on monopolies and monocultures need to give way to an earth democracy supported by decentralization and diversity. The rights of all species and the rights of all peoples must come before the rights of corporations to make limitless profits through limitless destruction."

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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