By Susan Cunningham
Earth Times News Network
Bangkok–Dispelling any doubts lingering with the Seattle pepper spray, the chiefs of multilateral agencies meeting here last month stressed their agreement with complaints that had led to the collapse of trade talks last December.
The directors of the World Trade Organization (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and numerous U.N. agencies weren’t referring to the grievances of Western labor unions or environmental organizations that sparked riots and fifteen minutes of media attention in Seattle.
Instead, they were responding to the disaffection of developing nations. At the eight-day meeting of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 159 ministers from South and North joined in reciting the same lesson: while developing countries had dropped import barriers and liberalized their economies in the past decade, richer countries hadn’t reciprocated by opening their own markets–most especially for agricultural products. For the new “development round” of talks to proceed, they said, developing countries must see more transparency and have a greater role than in the past in devising the rules.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan voiced the views of ministers from the developing world when he said the “main losers in today’s unequal world” weren’t people who had been over-exposed to globalization, but those who had been excluded from it. The “popular myth” is that talks were “blocked in Seattle by the people of the world joining together in the streets to defend their right to be different, against a group of faceless bureaucrats who wanted to force them all to eat genetically modified food,” Annan scoffed. The more “prosaic” truth, he told the 3,000 delegates, was that industrialized countries have lacked the political strength to “confront” their protectionist constituencies.