Managing the Globalization Process

By Lopes, Carlos | UN Chronicle, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview
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Managing the Globalization Process

Lopes, Carlos, UN Chronicle


As the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report 1999 states, the present era of globalization is characterized by the following distinctive features: shrinking time and space, and disappearing borders. The globalization process is linking people's lives more deeply, more intensely and more immediately than ever before. It is not only about integrating economy, but also culture, technology and governance.

Globalization, in its current form, presents a universal challenge--a challenge not only for each country, but for the institutions for global governance as well. Globalization is here, and no country or institution can escape it. However, in my opinion, the essential question lies in how to manage the process. Therefore, we need to question different forms of regulation at the national as well as global levels.

At the national level, there is a need to question various political, economic and socio-cultural forms of regulation. We need to question the political systems of governance. Is democracy fully compatible to the challenges posed by globalization? For instance, the power of free flowing financial flows brings into question emerging aspects of self-regulating capital markets that do not involve States.

Regarding the economic forms of regulation, we need to question the role of the State and "appropriate" trade policies. The role of the State has been shifting from one of productive actor towards a facilitator, and the regulatory aspect of Governments has become more and more important. However, in some cases, this shift has led to fear of losing control. Economical power is no longer associated so strongly with political power. New players emerge from the private sector in societies that were not used to this phenomenon. In addition, the fiscal squeeze, so often associated with globalization, is constraining the aspect of care in societies.

Regarding trade policies, countries need to find a balance between protectionism and trade liberalization. However, the forms of protectionism have become more sophisticated than before. The failure in Seattle has illustrated the complexity of the current World Trade Organization (WTO) agenda. The success of an individual country in this highly specialized game will depend on how skillfully a State can utilize its available options.

On the socio-cultural forms of regulation, we need to question, for instance, the cultural profiles of certain commodities and our way of dealing with the new communication technology.

At the global level, there is need to question the current governance structures, i.e. the United Nations agencies, the Bretton Woods Institutions and WTO. The old structures, including the United Nations, were and often still are seen as large, reactive, rigid and slow. They have played their role well in the past, but at present seem to be left behind with the pace of the change. New players, such as the World Economic Forum, the G-8, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media, have emerged to the field and shifted power away from the old structures. Newcomers seem to be faster, more proactive, leaner and more flexible.

This shift does not mean that the United Nations and the old structures have lost their purpose of existence--far from it. However, the United Nations needs to revisit and revive some aspects of its mandate, functions and responsibilities. Firstly, at present the governance debate is still too narrow, concentrating mainly on concerns regarding economic growth and financial stability--the new financial architecture. In addition, the debate is still very unbalanced with the G-7 dominating the discussion. There is need to include the developing world into the debate. The United Nations has a clear role in advocating for broadening of the debate, both in terms of issues as well as of contributions.

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