Sustainable Global Development

Presidents & Prime Ministers, March-April 1998 | Go to article overview

Sustainable Global Development

At a conference in Washington two weeks ago, I heard some fascinating commentaries on how far the trading system's horizons have expanded since the Tokyo Round. Just twenty years ago the challenge was to bring subsidies, antidumping, or technical standards fully into the rules of the system. Today the trading system is called on from one side or another to take account of environmental policy, financial instability, labor standards, ethical issues, development policy, competition law, culture, technology, investment, marginalization, security, health - an ever-lengthening list of issues which can be associated in one way or another with trade.

This underlines the degree of interdependence we have reached in our world. Clearly, the implications of trade liberalization go much beyond trade and economics. By lowering barriers among nations, economies, and people, it helps create interdependence and solidarity. Trade liberalization is not just a recipe for growth, but also for security and peace, as history has shown us. Likewise, globalization is about much more than trade or capital flows. It is about a world linked together by information, knowledge, and ideas as well. Economic and technological integration is reinforcing the global web of interdependence which gives us a shared interest in our civilization and our planet, as well as our prosperity. To talk only about managing a global economy is to miss the point that we are really dealing with a new kind of global system with an ever more important human dimension.

I want to make three basic points about how we approach and manage this new system. Firstly, that we should be careful that the concept of "policing" does not lead us to think that solutions can be imposed, or just transferred from one situation to another. Each global issue has to find its own best path - environmental, ethical, social, health, financial, and all the other aspects of an integrating world must be dealt with first and foremost in their own terms and according to their own specific needs. We cannot pretend that one policy sector can provide all the answers in another, and certainly not that the trading system can provide a sort of universal response. Seeking a single answer to a widely-varying set of problems would be as unrealistic in international as it is in national politics.

The need instead - and this second point flows naturally from the first - is to work patiently and carefully to build international consensus in each of these areas. The history of the multilateral trading system -- which is fifty years old this year -- shows us that there are no short cuts. The exercise of power is unlikely to produce equitable or durable solutions unless it is tempered by the rule of law. Only by encouraging the organic growth of consensus in all the areas that concern us will we find genuine answers to these concerns for the long term.

Thirdly, the clear implication of the previous points is that we need a global architecture which will provide a framework for building and strengthening global consensus in an integrating world which will fill the gap between politics, still based on national constituencies and needs, and economics and technologies more and more borderless and based on global objectives.

With these three points in mind, I would like to consider more closely what globalization means and how the trading system can help us to respond to its challenges and opportunities.

Certainly there are real and justified concerns about many aspects of the world we live in. It is equally clear that people are apprehensive about the speed of change, and that it is sometimes easier to blame all the insecurities and anxieties this can induce on globalization. Globalization can then become shorthand for everything we might not like about the world as it is. The risk attached to demonizing globalization is not just that it obscures and distorts the real, complex issues - it can also lead us down false and possibly dangerous political paths and actually obstruct the search for durable answers. …

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