A Deal Built on Sand: At the Doha Meetings, the World Trade Organization Got Back on the Fast Track. but a Train Wreck Lies Just Ahead

By Faux, Jeff | The American Prospect, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

A Deal Built on Sand: At the Doha Meetings, the World Trade Organization Got Back on the Fast Track. but a Train Wreck Lies Just Ahead


Faux, Jeff, The American Prospect


PULLED ALONG BY THE WAR ON TERRORISM, THE multinational corporate campaign to deregulate the global economy seems back on course--at least for the moment. By shrewdly buying votes and appealing to patriotism, the Bush administration engineered the jump start of a stalled new round of trade talks at the World Trade Organization in mid-November. Three weeks later, the White House squeaked through to a one-vote victory in the House of Representatives to put trade deals on a legislative "fast track." Unfortunately, the result of both events will be to bury the real issue: competent and accountable governance of the global marketplace.

In Doha, Qatar, the World Trade Organization finally found a safe place to hold a meeting. The tiny Persian Gulf sheikhdom is only 1,000 miles from Afghanistan. But it is a 9,000-mile flight from Seattle, where two years ago street protestors frustrated the WTO's attempt to further liberate global investors from government restrictions in trade and investment. This time, on November 14, protected by a detachment of U.S. marines in a desert theocracy sealed tight against outsiders, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick brokered a deal on the list of topics that 142 countries will bargain over for the next several years.

And just in time. Failure would have reinforced growing doubts among both critics and supporters as to the WTO's credibility. Just a few years ago, Renato Ruggiero, who was then the organization's director general, could say with confidence that the WTO's rules for global trade were the "constitution of a single global economy." Today, disenchantment with the idea of a global society organized around laissez-faire values is spreading beyond the trade-union, environmental, and other activists of the Seattle coalition to politicians and scholars--and even some businesspeople. The head of DaimlerChrysler recently estimated that only 1O percent to 20 percent of the world's people have benefited from globalization. Nevertheless, failure would have caused severe discomfort in most corporate boardrooms. Multinational firms are counting on a new WTO "round." Among other objectives, they want more access to third-world financial markets, they want privatization and foreign ownership of government services, and they want WTO tribunals to override any country's domestic laws that can be shown to restrain trade.

With protestors barred from Doha's streets, Zoellick could safely ignore demands to give human rights, labor, and environmental standards parity with investor protections. He could, therefore, concentrate on dealing with the complaints of the ministers from the third world: to wit, that their economies had gotten very little from the last trade deal--the Uruguay Round, which concluded in 1994.

INDEED, WITH THE END OF THE COLD WAR, THE THIRD world lost much of its international bargaining leverage in the 1990s. Successive U.S. administrations cut back foreign aid and bluntly told poor countries that they could develop only by offering up their natural resources and cheap labor to global private capital. If they resisted, there would be no more loans from the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. There was little choice. In some impoverished places, the new order created export jobs and made local entrepreneurs rich. But more often than not, the result was a massive dislocation of rural peasants, the blowing away of domestic industry by multinationals, and the growth of a discontented urban proletariat.

The United States' post-September 11 need for allies in the war against terrorism somewhat strengthened the hand of the developing countries at Doha. Moreover, with most of their economies tanking from the global recession and from plummeting raw-material prices, trade ministers from the third world could not go home empty-handed. During the meeting, 25,000 people jammed the streets of New Delhi to protest against the WTO--an event not unrelated to the militant rhetoric of the Indian delegation. …

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