New Round on the backs of US-led war on terrorism?

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 26 Sep 2001 - The Chairman of the General Council at the World Trade Organization, Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China, is expected to provide to delegations a draft text of a Ministerial Declaration for the next Ministerial Conference at Doha.

The text is being drawn up by him after a series of bilateral, and some plurilateral, consutlations with members. Prepared and to be presented on his own personal responsibility, in terms of past practices and experiences, the chairman’s paper will be made into a draft text around which consultations and intense negotiations are expected to be held over the next few days on the outcome of Doha.

There is an attempt at the secretariat and by major countries to project a ‘business as usual’ atmosphere, and talk of importance of holding the meeting at Doha in November as scheduled.

Privately, several trade ambassadors say that most of their colleagues in bilateral talks find it difficult to believe the Doha ministerial meeting could go ahead now as planned. A large majority say that whether the Doha meeting would go ahead or not would depend on the nature of the US response and military attacks and when it would take place (and not while everyone awaits the response and the nature of it). Nor does anyone believe it would be a single-shot limited one. Along with the Chairman’s draft, the members are also expected to be provided another paper relating to the implementation issues, which is being drawn up by the Director-General and Mr. Harbinson, and the two are likely to be considered together.

Trade ambassadors expect some intense discussions and talks from next week, both in informal general council formats, and some ‘smaller’, ‘green-room’ type consultations - a format that has already been revived in some ways in the consultation processes under way this year, bringing in protests from several of the smaller economies.

The implementation paper itself is not expected by some of the key developing countries to go beyond the socalled ‘submarine paper’ (mainly procedural suggestions put forward by a group of developing and some developed countries) and some of the time-extension ideas floated or agreed to be by the US and EU.

Many of the key countries, in the discussions on these questions, have said what was being offered was not sufficient or substantive, but have not outright rejected them - in their anxiety to the other side (the US, Canada, EC, Japan and other industrialized countries) engaged.

But they would find it a hopeless task to try to sell any package emerging on this back home as a substantive one, meeting their immediate goals and one that would yield benefits in the future. Far too many parliaments, businesses and people in developing countries have seen through the unkept and unfulfilled promises of the Uruguay Round.

None of the real problems and market access benefits under the Uruguay Round that have not accrued or denied because of the way the industrialized countries have implemented their commitments and promises in textiles and clothing, agriculture etc, are expected to figure in the Harbinson-Moore package on implementation.

On the issues outside of the implementation questions - the scope of on-going mandated negotiations (in agriculture and services) and various reviews, and/or other issues to be put together and made into a ‘new round’, and whether it should include new issues and in what way - are all expected by some delegations to be presented by Mr. Harbinson as alternative options under each of them.

One active developing country ambassador said, “We don’t expect any document to accept or even lean in the direction of the developing country concerns. They would reflect the viewpoints and agendas of the majors, being pushed by the secretariat, and we could at best hope to see our positions also refloected as alternative options in square brackets.”

Senior officials from some of the capitals of industrialized countries, and other countries that are commonly known as ‘friends of a new round’ are all expected to descend on Geneva to try and apply pressures and ‘persuasions’ on developing country trade ambassadors - either to win their support, or persuade them not to speak up in the consultations, even to reflect views that their own ministers have expressed back home or in regional and other meetings.

The idea is to isolate what are seen as less than a handful who are opposing a new round with new issues, and create a situation where on some of these, the negotiations on a clean text would be taken to Doha, where many developing country ministers may be at a disadvantage (in techncal knowledge or seeing through same demands presented as compromises - for e.g. ‘future negotiations’ or ‘future work,’ or other formulations as at Singapore.

These attempts at arm-twisting and isolating and pressuring comes at a time when the support and active help of several of these very same countries are being sought on the ‘Global war on terrorism’ that the US is launching as a response to the attacks on the World Trade Centre.

In 1990, Iraq had occupied Kuwait, and the United States under George Bush Sr, who was at the White House, was mobilising allies and friends for the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait, and was asking Europe and Japan (and the other oil-rich Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia) to provide funds to the US to fight the war, and also for Japan and others to provide the technology they had to the US.

At that time in 1990, the Uruguay Round negotiations were on, and the Ministerial Conference to conclude the Round had gathered at Brussels.

On the evening of the penultimate day at the conference, delegates and others had recessed endless small group consultations on various issues, to go out for dinner and return later in the night.

Before going for their own dinners, most of the anglo-saxon, western and european media, had on the basis of US and other briefings had come to the conclusion that the conference would end in success, with Europe and Japan (and the developing countries) yielding to the U.S. Some of them in the early editions of the next day had stories about the successful conference!

On that penultimate day, early in the night, the then GATT Director-General Arthur Dunkel had returned to the conference hall (a little earlier than delegates and his own officials), and seeing this writer alone in the lobbies stopped to chat. This writer asked him whether he thought EC and Japan would yield. Mr. Dunkel answered with a query of his own: he took the Financial Times copy of that morning (that this writer was reading) and which had headlines about the US demand for money and technology from the EU and Japan to fight the Gulf War.

Dunkel asked whether it was possible for the US to get both money and other support for the Gulf war and the demands on the trade front?

Now too, when the US is launching a ‘war on global terrorism’ and seeking the support and help of a swathe of countries, the Gulf and Asian developing countries, there is also a concerted effort by trade establishments (including the USTR and the EC Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy) to use the US-launched or led, “Global war on terrorism”, and the general climate created of difficulties of developing country governments to oppose the US (or some joining to get some benefits), to launch the round, and with new issues.

The synchronised slowdown in the industrialized countries, which has been under way in a sense since the beginning of this year, is sought to be used in highly publicised writings of neo-liberal economists, columnists and editorial writers in the financial media of western countries, to promote the view that trade liberalization is the answer to the slow-down, and to stave off global recession.

However, neither history nor economic common sense suggests a close causative or associative connection. It is clear that the recession in the major centres and global recession has to be countered by macroeconomic policy measures (and this is voiced even in the industrialized world). In today’s interdependent world this means for e.g. better coordination of expansionary fiscal and monetary policies and measures in the leading industrial economies and the timely provision of international liquidity, and the return to multilateral coordination and cooperation of the post-war era until the collapse of the Bretton Woods systems in early 1970s.

The attempt to fight ‘global terrorism’ through military measures outside of the UN and its sanction, or using the atmosphere to force more market openings in the South cannot provide an answer.

If the liberal, welfare-economics view of trade theory, preached to the developing world by the industrialized countries and the IMF and the World Bank over the last two decades or more were in fact true, the industrialized world should be undertaking unilateral liberalization, reduce the costs and prices of agricultural and other products imported from the developing countries, force their own high-cost subsidised agriculture and industry to compete and reduce prices, and increase the welfare of their own consumers, and reward enterprises through profits and capital accumulation.

However, it has always been a case at the centres and by their institutions of “do as we preach, not as we do.”

With the recession in the major centres, and the prospect of long-drawn conflicts or preparations for it against Afghanistan and other states judged to be harbouring or supporting ‘terrorism’, it is not very easy to believe that the industrialized countries who in their days of prosperity did not open their markets or trying to close them through trade-harassment actions, to the exports of the developing world agricultural products, textiles and clothing, steel etc - are going to open up their markets in the conditions of recession or mobilising for the ‘war on terrorism’.

On 11-12 September March, when the hijacked planes were used as ‘bombs’ to attack the World Trade Centre towers in New York, and thousands of innocents were killed, there was a near-universal condemnation and waves of sympathy for the Americans, who have not experienced such ‘foreign’ attacks on their own mainland for nearly two centuries.

The general wave of sympathy was also related to the peculiar character of New York which, as a metropolis, exercises a relationship with not only its American citizens, but those who had lived and worked in that city (even after they leave and return to their countries). Also, there was the fact of several foreigners, some merely as cleaners and waiters etc whose lives were lost.

Initially, US President George W Bush presented the culprits and those behind them as “Islamic terrorists”, but on wiser counsel from inside and outside the US, the adjective ‘Islamic’ was dropped - though it appears to be never far away from the minds of politicians and others or of media.

The attacks of 11 September were undoubtedly ‘terrorist attacks’ on the United States and its policies and even its ‘way of life’, and the US reactions is quite understandable. However, to confuse the attacks as ‘attack on western civilization’ or even ‘civilization’ is an exhibition of ignorance of the history of civilization and cultures.

President Bush and the US have also moved away from the original concept of a war on all terrorism, and now most of the American leaders talk of this as a war on terrorism threatening or attacking the United States and the US way of life.

The confusion or the innate prejudice in European, rather the Anglo-Saxon minds (commentaries and analysis in the French media are much more sober) is evident from several newspaper columnists and commentators, who deliberately or otherwise are mixing up the ‘attacks’ with those protesting globalization, and advocating the launch of a new trade round as a response (e.g. columns in the International Herald Tribune by the Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Ms. Maria Cattaui, and the writings of the International Herald Tribune financial and business page columnist, Mr. Reginald Dale).

The latest in viewing the attacks and ‘terrorist threats’ as a conflict between Western Christian societies and Islamic societies is from the neo-liberal columnist of Financial Times, Mr. Martin Wolfe, who has devoted a column today on “the economic failure of Islam” and of the core of Islamic countries for their inability and failure to absorb and adopt “western ideas of political organization and economic policy” and match the industrial revolution (of Europe?, America?, Japan?).

For neo-liberal theologians to whom facts are free but opinion is sacred, the fact that none of the policies and practices adopted by these countries to develop industry or agriculture can be used under the current world economic and trading system is not an element in the materialistic interpretation of history and efforts to present other cultures and civilizations as backward.

However, in the effort to use the current political atmosphere, and the US demand ‘either you are with us or against us’, not against a still undefined and inchoate enemy and a ‘war on global terrorism’, into demand for support to the launching of a new round of trade negotiations at the WTO, and presenting opponents - of the current economic globalization processes and critics of the corporate welfare that the international system is promoting and enforcing through trade rules - as terrorists is not only misconceived and contemptible, but in fact dangerous and counter-productive.

Several of the countries of Asia and Africa and the Middle East with vast populations trapped in poverty, and finding none of the promised benefits from the Uruguay Round, are willy-nilly in the frontlines of the ‘war on global terrorism’ and its immediate targets in Afghanistan. Their peoples and leaders are angry enough that their own complaints of ‘terrorism’ had been ignored in the past, but are now being pressed into joining the US move against terrorism targeted against the US.

All these countries have also either predominantly Muslim populations, or very large minority populations, and many pluralistic cultures and peoples. Several of them in some form or other have provided or promised support to the US actions.

The domestic conflicts and unrest these may engender would be compounded by attempts to force them into trade liberalizations or even commit themselves vaguely to such a course at the WTO.

Mixing up the political and security problems and conflicts, with the attempt to launch trade negotiations for further demands on the developing world, is such a dangerous adventure that it is difficult to believe that any one in authority could indulge in this so recklessly. – SUNS4975

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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