by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 11 Nov 99 -- The Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Mr. Mike Moore, went to Rome Thursday to address an Italian national meeting on the Millennium Round and gave "three core messages" to critics of the WTO and its system.

The GATT/WTO system, he said, is a force for international peace and order, and a fortification against disorder. The world would not be a safer place without the UN, IMF, World Bank, or the WTO despite their imperfections.

The second core message was "our system CAN (emphasis added) be harnessed to address poverty, to create a more inclusive world... Trading opportunities and adjustment to the conditions of international competition are key ingredients in helping to lift countries and their peoples out of poverty, but not the only ingredient. Not only is there a moral urgency about this, because poverty and despair degrades us all, but we need to create customers of the future for the successful economies of today."

And the third core message was that the WTO system was helping to create new opportunities and was instrumental in spreading the information revolution. "People trying to stop the WTO's efforts to reduce protection and enlarge opportunity may not want to arrest the spread of benefits from technological advancement, but that is likely to be a by-product. When I was a boy it would have taken a year's wages of a worker to buy the Encyclopedia Britannica for their children. Today it is free on the internet. Who wants to buy yesterday's technologies and techniques today? What mother does not seek the very best medical attention, regardless of its state of origin, when her child is sick..."

As for the critics of 'globalization', here are Moore's words of wisdom:

"We have always enjoyed the globalization of literature and music. On the most lonely pacific atoll, in the most distant jungle valley, people listen to Italian opera, read Shakespeare and essentially have the same hopes and ambitions, that their children have a better life than they... "

"The old divides of North-South, of left and right, no longer apply. What divides us today is the difference between those that welcome the future and those that fear it. The future is not to be feared. It is to be faced. Let us face it together and strive to improve what we have and share it more effectively..."

Moore is new to his job, and perhaps his speech-writers did not acquaint him with a WTO agreement called 'Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights' (TRIPS) which several studies have now identified as restricting and impeding the free flow of technology and information, and (according to a study by a World Bank staffer, Arvind Subramanyam) has raised the costs of essential medicine in the developing world.

The UNDP's Human Development Report 1999 (SUNS #4475), which addressed both the "globalization" issue and the effect of TRIPS, said that under TRIPS, "money talks, not need", in defining the research agendas -"with cosmetics and slow-ripening tomatoes having a higher priority than drought-resistant crops or vaccine against malaria."

The HDR-99 added "The best of the new technologies - from new drugs to better seeds - are priced for those who can pay, and remain out of reach of the poor." Tighter (intellectual) property rights raise the price of technology transfer, blocking developing countries from the dynamic knowledge sector, and will enable TNCs to dominate the global market even more.

As for globalization, the HDR-99 said, "Today's globalization, is driven by market expansion - opening national borders to trade, capital and information - outpacing governance of these markets and their repercussions for people.... More progress has been made in norms, standards, policies and institutions for open global markets than for people and their rights. A new commitment is needed to the ethics of universalism set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Competitive markets, the HDR-99 added, may be best guarantee of efficiency, but not necessarily for equity.... In sum, global opportunities are unevenly distributed - between countries and people. And if the opportunities are not shared better, the failed growth of the last decade will continue. (SUNS4550)

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

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