September 14th, 2003


When free trade isn't.

Just heard that talks have collapsed at the WTO meeting in Cancun. The purpose of this round of WTO talks was initially supposed to be in moving towards the removal of agricultural subsidies (primarily from the world's wealthiest nations) that prevent smaller nations from competing fairly in the world market.

Instead, the US, EU, and Japan brought a whole bunch of different issues to the table, essentially saying that they're only willing to support the concept of fair trade if their country's agrobusinesses had a near-unlimited right to invest in the emurging countries of the world.

Of course, what they don't say is that investment from western agrobusinesses has typically screwed over the countries they invest in. The agrobusinesses buy up the most fertile soil, pay the bare minimum they can, change the crops produced from affordable food crops designed to feed the locals to export crops designed to make money, thereby forcing the locals to buy, say, overpriced US grain in order to survive, while US companies export bananas or coffee or...

In other words, the world's richest nations don't really believe in fair trade. They really just want to get rich by screwing over the world's poor.

Their lack of belief in fair trade is so extreme that they even had the gall to say to African cotton planters "Don't grow cotton, because the US subsidizes their cotton farmers too much for you to make a living doing what you've done on your land for centuries. Perhaps you people should find a new career..."

It is a truely depressing and screwed up situation when an organization that is supposed to be all about the principles of free trade is so badly misused. The big story of the Cancun talks is the formation of the Group of 21, a collection of third world countries that make up over 50% of the world's population. Their goal was simple -- to oppose the efforts of the US, Europe, and Japan to control the trade talks, and to encourage policies that will help third world countries.

I have a suggestion for them. If they really want to help themselves, they should implement three policies:

1> Declare the nations of the Group of 21 a free trade zone between co-members. No tariffs between members. No subsidies.

2> Close the exploitive loophole in the concept of free trade zones by making it impossible for any foriegn owned or controlled companies to export goods within the free trade zone. If foriegn countries want to take advantage of the free trade zone, they can remove all their subsidies and join up like anyone else.

3> Impose universal tariffs on all US, EU, and Japanese products that are subsidized by their governments so that the true, unsubsidized price of their agricultural goods are respresented as best as possible.

Now *that* would be free trade -- at least for over half of the world's poor -- who would be doing what poor communities have done on a micro level worldwide for ages in order to become prosperous. They would be buying from themselves. It would also create palpable (and deserved) fear in the richest countries in the world, as they began to realize that the modern era of economic colonialism was on its way to the last roundup.