Magazine article The Nation

Whose Trade?

Magazine article The Nation

Whose Trade?

Article excerpt

Once, not so long ago, trade was the province of policy wonks and special interests-and the experts and lobbyists liked it that way. No longer. Now it's a hot political issue. One reason is the growth of trade; just 4 percent of GDP in the early fifties, it's more than 13 percent today. Another is that international capital flows, ranging from productive pursuits like building factories to speculative ones like betting against national currencies, have grown even more strongly. And still another is that the areas covered by trade agreements have widened from traditional concerns with tariffs and quotas to cover labor, environmental and health regulations as well.

NAFTA was the first major trade fight, occurring at a time in the early nineties when downsizings were plentiful and new jobs were scarce. To many it looked like a scheme for greasing the departure of US manufacturing to cheaper, friendlier climes-Ross Perot's famous "giant sucking sound." A year after NAFTA took effect, a whole new trade regime came into being with the birth of the World Trade Organization in January 1995, replacing the much looser set of agreements that had regulated world trade since the late forties. The WTO has vast powers to adjudicate trade disputes and invalidate regulations it deems impediments to trade through "expert" tribunals meeting secretly in Geneva. In effect, it's a form of world government with almost no popular accountability.

So far, so outrageous. But the WTO-and "globalization"-should be kept in some kind of perspective: Much of today's economic stress is the result of national economic policies, not global ones, and much of that stress is the effect of fairly ancient features of capitalism, among which "globalization" is merely one important part.

Since the WTO's birth, life has gotten a lot more difficult for free- traders. In 1997 President Clinton was denied so-called fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals; it's hard to imagine any new trade agreement getting approved in the near future. More globally, a new international movement has grown up over the past few years to frustrate the designs of those who'd further liberalize trade and capital flows. Its first major victory was the defeat of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, a kind of bill of rights for capital that was being negotiated quietly. The movement has creatively used the Internet to organize and inform, a fact that has caused great distress among elites around the world.

An important milestone in this new era of trade politics will be the WTO's summit meeting opening on November 30 in Seattle. As host, the Clinton Administration had hoped the summit would mark the opening of a Millennial Round of trade negotiations further expanding the liberalization agenda. But thousands of activists decided to crash the party. There will be demonstrations, teach-ins and street theater, designed both to spoil the summiteers' mood and to educate people about the WTO.

What follows is a sampling of progressive opinion about the WTO and "globalization" in general. All the participants agree that the WTO, as presently constituted, has some serious problems; the disagreements flare up over what to do about it and over whether "globalization" is fundamentally a good or a bad thing. We hope this encourages discussion in an area where the depth of knowledge isn't always as profound as the depth of feeling.

Doug Henwood

How Big Is 'Globalization,' Really?

How much does "globalization" matter? Are there other factors that get ignored when so much stress is placed on it?

Dani Rodrik: Certain aspects of globalization fall far short of the amount of globalization that we observed at the tail end of the previous century. I think we often exaggerate the degree to which national governments are constrained by global forces. Often governments find it too easy to say, "We can't do this or that because corporations will flee or we'll lose exports. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.