Deborah James

Two of the Biggest Threats to the Stability of the World Economy Are Hiding in Plain Sight

In the early 1990s, transnational corporations (TNCs) in the agriculture, services, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing sectors each got agreements as part of the WTO to lock in rights for those companies to participate in markets under favorable conditions, while limiting the ability of governments to regulate and shape their economies. The topics corresponded to the corporate agenda at the time.

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Major Summit Could Put World's Poorest Inhabitants on Corporate Chopping Block

Last week, 453 civil society groups including trade unions, farmers, environmentalists, public interest groups and development advocates from over 150 countries wrote an urgent letter to members of the WTO to “express extreme alarm about the current situation of the negotiations in the WTO.” This is the largest number of endorsers on a letter about the WTO in the last decade and is a signal of the dire situation. Coordinated by the global Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network, the letter is available in English, Spanish and French.

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Huge International Coalition Calls for a Big Change to WTO Agenda

Remember the “Doha Round” of the WTO? Yeah, I wish I didn’t either.

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Investing in Agriculture in Developing Countries: The Whole World Says Yes, But the WTO Says No

Farmers, development activists and food security advocates alike are united in the need for resilient agro-ecological local food systems to achieve the Right to Food.

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Corporate Globalization in Crisis

From December 13 to 18, the World Trade Organization will hold its sixth ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, China, to negotiate the fate of public services, the global food supply, and jobs and development. Representatives from 148 countries will meet to shape the future of the global economy.

Negotiations are stalled on a variety of issues, and it's possible the Ministerial may end without a consensus Declaration. WTO proponents are attempting to portray the crisis in negotiations as though the problem were the lack of European (particularly French) or Brazilian "ambition" to break through the deadlock.

But the real issue is that the WTO is in crisis because the model of corporate globalization has failed to produce economic growth, its supposed mandate. For 10 years, the WTO has helped to promote a surge in global trade -- and yet this increase in trade has failed to raise economic growth, even to the levels achieved during the pre-1980 era. It has also failed to alleviate poverty. According to the United Nations, we still live in a world where 24,000 people die worldwide every day from hunger and poverty-related diseases.

Now that the record is clear, global social movements and many governments are questioning the WTO's attack on sovereignty, democracy and the ability of poor countries to develop. Thousands of farmers, workers, environmentalists, women, people of faith, immigrants, and human rights advocates from Hong Kong, Bolivia, South Korea, Canada, South Africa, Indonesia, Europe, the Philippines, the US, and other countries, will meet in Hong Kong this December, to protest the undemocratic WTO and its destructive impact on communities, democracy, development, and the environment.

A broken model

The WTO aims to consolidate a series of policy reforms that many countries have implemented over the last 25 years, following IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs in developing countries, and Reagan-Thatcher prescriptions in the US and Europe. Referred to as "free trade," "the Washington Consensus" or what we call "corporate globalization," the policies include privatizing public services, weakening labor laws, deregulating industry, opening up to foreign investment, shrinking the non-military government, lowering of tariffs and subsidies, and focusing on exports over production for national markets.

This time period has seen a sharp decline in economic growth worldwide .

The WTO has failed to produce economic growth because this entire model is actually geared to increase the power of corporations in the governance of the global economy. Rather than governing just trade, the WTO is better understood as a global corporate power-grab, aiming to impose a one-size-fits-all set of rules on national issues of public services, intellectual property, agriculture, industrial development, and more. Under this flawed model of corporate globalization, not only is economic growth sluggish, but economic inequality has vastly increased, diminishing prospects for development and the attainment of universal economic human rights.

Best case scenario: less than a penny a day

Not only is the WTO's record dismal, but future prospects look even dimmer. Even according to traditional economic models, new figures show much less global economic growth from the current WTO round than originally projected. In the recent study released by the World Bank, a successful outcome in the current negotiations could expect global economic gains of a mere $3 to $20 a year per person worldwide by 2015, of which more than two-thirds would go to the rich countries.

But one of the most fascinating conclusions of the study was that gains from complete trade liberalization worldwide -- a highly unlikely scenario -- would amount to a mere $287 billion in 2015. Seems like a big number, but that's a paltry 0.7 percent of global GDP projected that year.

Let's put this statistic into reality. Imagine living in a country where your annual income is a buck a day. Under complete trade liberalization, according to one of its greatest proponents, your dollar a day income would rise to a buck and 7/10ths of one penny.

That's why over 130 groups -- led by trade unions -- around the world have released a statement called "The Doha Development Round: a recipe for the massive destruction of livelihoods, mass unemployment and the degradation of work." The statement begins, "When the world's trade ministers put their signatures to the founding document of the WTO in April 1994 in Marrakech, their very first sentence establishing the WTO committed them to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income.

"Has the Marrakech miracle materialized? Are employment and livelihoods ensured and steadily growing? No. The WTO's trade and investment rules have taken the world in the opposite direction, and the current negotiations threaten to take us further still. After ten years under the WTO, unemployment has climbed around the world."

Other economic models have historically delivered much higher levels of development than the supporters of the WTO model claim to offer, such as those used by many developing countries before the IMF started controlling their economies. In addition, other models -- such as focusing on investments in health care and education -- have proven to alleviate poverty far more effectively than just focusing on trade and investment liberalization.

For example, the two fastest growing economies in Latin America -- posting growth around nine percent this year -- are Argentina and Venezuela, which have both followed unorthodox economic polices that are not favored by international financial institutions and the leaders of the WTO.

The International Forum on Globalization's seminal collection, "Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World is Possible," highlights a number of these policy alternatives, culled from some of the most luminary thinkers on these issues from around the world, including Walden Bello, Vandana Shiva, Jerry Mander, Lori Wallach, and others.

Up for grabs: services, jobs and agriculture

On December 1, the Director General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, distributed a second draft of the proposed Declaration that the WTO Ministerial meeting will discuss in Hong Kong. Many developing countries reacted swiftly in Geneva, voicing serious concerns about the text, as it overly represents the interests of developed countries and corporate interests at the expense of development issues.

So what's really happening in the WTO?

Services: In recent years, corporations have fought to redefine "trade" to include services. Rather than seeing that services like water distribution, health care, and education are human rights, the WTO aims to privatize these public services, which would increase corporate profits but limit access for the poor. That's why social movements in Bolivia and other countries are launching a new campaign, "Water Out of the WTO."

Rich country negotiators also want to deregulate private sector services, like electricity distribution, banking, and tourism, by restricting public oversight over corporations. Just what we need: less regulation of key industries like accounting and energy distribution, so we can have more Enron and Arthur Anderson scandals.

Unsatisfied with the number of services developing countries have offered to be sold off to foreign multinational corporations, the US and Europe have made recent demands that countries offer a minimum number of services for complete liberalization. This new demand has met with stiff resistance from developing countries, who see through the maneuver as a corporate grab that would prevent their achievement of Millennium Development Goals like increasing access to health care and education.

Even more controversial are the talks on increasing visas for foreign workers, or "the movement of natural persons" in WTO-speak. The WTO should not be setting domestic immigration policy, particularly as the proposed rules drastically limit immigrant workers' labor rights, and would contribute to the global brain drain in developing countries.

Jobs and Natural Resources: In another key area of negotiation, rich countries are pressuring poor country governments to lower tariffs on industrial products and natural resources (Non-Agricultural Market Access, or NAMA). Using tariffs to protect new and developing industries against competition from foreign products is a cornerstone of industrial policy, one that every developed country has used to protect jobs and national industries. If negotiations continue, the WTO would kick away the ladder of development -- permanently.

In addition, NAMA would increase trade in important natural resources such as forest products, gems and minerals, and fish products, and tear away at "non-tariff barriers" that we call health and safety regulations.

Tariffs are essentially taxes on corporations for the privilege of making money in a foreign country, so tariff reduction should be understood as a giant corporate tax abolition scheme. If corporate interests get their way, rich countries will be able to force developing nations to drastically reduce their tariffs. Then many small developing countries, which depend on tariff income as a significant chunk of their national budgets, would see financing for health care and education siphoned off radically.

The Third World Network's Martin Khor has called the NAMA negotiations the "end of development."

Agriculture: Land reform, food subsidies for the poor, and sustainable production are core elements of a fair and healthy food system. But the WTO rules are based on an ideology of food for export, not for eating.

The main points of contention in the agricultural negotiations are government subsidies for domestic production, and tariffs on imports. But the US and Europe, with stunning hypocrisy, have largely won exemptions for the types of subsidies they use, which largely benefit agro-industrial corporations like Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland. The global farmers movement Via Campesina has launched a "WTO Out of Agriculture" campaign because small farmers worldwide have witnesses their livelihoods destroyed for the last 10 years due to WTO policies.

Readers might remember the tragic suicide of Korean farmer Lee Kyung Hae during the Cancún WTO ministerial two years ago, wearing a sign that read "WTO Kills Farmers."

This time, the Ministerial is presaged by such a tragedy. During Bush's visit last month to a Summit of Asian and Pacific Economic Cooperation, a young Korean farmer killed herself by drinking insecticide -- to protest the deadly WTO farm policies of allowing massive importation of foreign subsidized rice.

Window of opportunity

The potential failure of the sixth Ministerial will actually throw the WTO into a deep crisis. After failing to launch the so-called Millennium Round in 1999 in Seattle, this current round of negotiations was launched in Doha, Qatar in 2001. A second ministerial collapsed amidst massive civil society protests in September 2003. Negotiations were supposed to have been wrapped up by January 2005, yet are still stalled on the basic framework.

If the framework (modalities, in WTO-speak) is not completed by March, it will be extremely difficult for negotiators to wrap up the technical negotiations in time to send the final agreements to the US Congress before the expiration of Fast Track negotiating authority in July 2007.

The sixth Ministerial of the WTO follows on the heels of another failed Ministerial, the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina. The Bush administration attempted to use the meeting to jump-start the stalled FTAA talks, but the meeting ended without even a declaration. This failure was widely interpreted in the mainstream media as an indictment of the entire model of corporate globalization in Latin America.

If developing country governments, in conjunction with global civil society, can stand up to the pressure of US and European arm-twisting and outrageous demands, the Hong Kong Ministerial could fall apart again, just like Seattle, Cancún, and Mar del Plata.

In the US media, we will likely hear about the lack of European or Brazilian "ambition" to break through the negotiations deadlock. But the truth is clear: The radical experiment of instituting a global corporate government has failed to deliver economic growth, development, or democracy, and never will.

It's not just the negotiations that are broken, it's the model.

The next few months offer a crucial window for us to turn back the tide of corporate globalization -- and instead build a vision of a global economy based on life values, not money values. Let's not miss the opportunity.

Investigating Pat Robertson

On Monday, August 22nd, right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson called for the assassination of democratically elected President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

Robertson (a candidate for the GOP´s Presidential nomination in 1992) and the millions of supporters of his television show, The 700 Club, are a key constituency of the Republican party.

In his Monday show, Robertson said, "If [Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it."

In an apparent reference to past US invasions of countries like Vietnam and Iraq, he added that "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. … It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay should be lining up to condemn -- in the strongest terms possible -- such immoral statements from a leader of their political base. Instead, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack merely referred to Robertson's statement as "inappropriate."

Calling for terrorist homicide against a democratically elected president is not merely "inappropriate" -- it is illegal, unethical, and it must be investigated for potential violations of federal and international law.

Fortunately, there are a few Congresspeople who understand the implications of this extremist act. Representative Serrano said the comments were "beyond the pale." Representative Lee chimed in that "President Bush should quickly and clearly condemn Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of the democratically elected leader of Venezuela, particularly since his new Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Karen Hughes, has appeared on Robertson's show."

In addition, the National Council of Churches stated: "Pat Robertson's call for the murder of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez is appalling to the point of disbelief. It defies logic that a clergyman could so casually dismiss thousands of years of Judaeo-Christian law, including the commandment that we are not to kill."

Reverend Jesse Jackson, Jr. said that Robertson's "rhetoric, especially if taken to their conclusion, only undermines international diplomacy and dialogue, and has no place in today's world."

On Monday Venezuelan Vice President José Vincent Rangel noted in a Caracas press conference: "Before, they were openly calling for Chávez's overthrow, now the call is to assassinate him."

The next day, Robertson "clarified" his comments, incredulously stating that "I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out.' 'Take him out' could be a number of things, including kidnapping."

Finally, on Wednesday, Robertson apologized -- but put the blame on Chávez for provoking him: "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

His apology is welcome, but it calls attention to the larger picture: the context of ongoing US aggression towards Venezuela.

Robertson's Comments Consistent with US Government Policy

For years the US government has been working to create a climate hostile to the democratically elected government of Venezuela -- Pat Robertson's statements are, unfortunately, consistent with the actions of the Bush administration. The administration supported the 2002 coup against President Chávez, and has continued to fund coup leaders in their efforts to remove President Chávez from office after the coup.

Recently, the US has stepped up efforts to isolate Venezuela in the region (although these efforts have been largely rebuffed by other Latin American leaders.) Last week, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld continued the Bush administration's rhetorical assault against President Chávez, re-issuing old and unsupported claims regarding Venezuela.

Yet in August 2004, President Chávez won a referendum on his presidency by 59%, results which were certified by the Organization of American States (OAS) and Carter Center as free and fair. His popularity currently stands at over 70% -- much higher than his US counterpart's, and one of the highest in Latin America. There is complete freedom of press, assembly, speech, and civil rights in the country, and there are no serious human rights organizations that have argued that these rights have been reduced under Chávez, nor do they compare unfavorably to other regional governments.

The policy of America's governmental antipathy towards Venezuela stems more from that country's creation of an alternative economic vision than unsubstantiated concerns regarding democracy. President Chávez has embarked on a series of economic reforms, such as funneling billions of oil industry profits into massive programs for health care, education, literacy, and clean water, and promoting regional integration, which fly in the face of Bush's failed efforts to promote corporate globalization by establishing a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The US "free trade" economic model has failed to deliver growth in the region; according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Latin Americans have experienced less than .5% per capita economic growth overall in the last 25 years. Meanwhile, Chávez's economic policies (combined with oil profits) have made Venezuela the fastest growing economy in the region. But the American government's dislike for Chávez's vision certainly does not give anyone a license to kill.

In his comments, Robertson invoked the Monroe Doctrine, the primary instrument of the US policy of intervention and domination in the Western Hemisphere since 1823. "We can't allow this to happen in our sphere of influence," he said.

Past US involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected governments weighs heavily on the minds of Latin Americans from countries like Chile, Guatemala, Haiti, Grenada, and the Dominican Republic. In addition, the US government has been connected to the 1963 assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, as well as the murders of Congolese President Patrice Lumumba, Chilean President Salvador Allende, and repeated attempts on the life of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Robertson's comments have little basis in US or Venezuelan reality. He stated that if Chávez were to be assassinated, he didn't "think any oil shipments will stop." President Chávez has repeatedly stated that oil shipments from Venezuela -- which represent approximately 15% of US imports -- will continue steadily as long as the US does not commit violent acts of aggression against Venezuela's sovereignty. Articles quoting his repeated declarations on this topic are available here.

Venezuela is expanding exports to other countries, including China, the Caribbean, and South America, but has maintained shipments to the US, which light up our Eastern Seaboard with heating oil and keep 14,000 Venezuelan-owned Citgo gas stations in business. Chavez has also offered to provide lower-cost gasoline to struggling Americans. But in the case of an attack on the physical integrity of the Venezuelan leader, the immediate cessation of exports from the US's fourth largest source would be all but guaranteed.

The US government's ongoing hostility towards President Chávez has created a climate in which a Republican leader feels comfortable in calling for the US to kill an elected head of state as part of US foreign policy on the cheap. Robertson's comments should be a clarion call for a new foreign relations policy with Venezuela - one based on respect for a thriving democracy and an important economic ally.

Obligations Under Federal and International Law

Despite his apology, Pat Robertson should still be investigated -- and potentially prosecuted -- for calling for the murder of a democratically elected head of state. Under Title 18 of US Code Section 1116, "whoever kills or attempts to kill a foreign official, official guest, or internationally protected person shall be punished." Section 878 of the same title makes it a crime to "knowingly and willingly threaten" to commit the above crime.

The US government is also obligated under international law to prevent and punish acts of terrorism against foreign heads of state, if those acts are conceived of or planned on US territory. The 1973 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons makes it a crime to commit a "murder, kidnapping, or other attack upon on the liberty of an internationally protected person;" [including] a "threat to commit any such attack."

The US is also a signatory to the 1971 Convention to Prevent and Punish Acts of Terrorism Taking the Form of Crimes Against Persons and Related Extortion that are of International Significance of the OAS, Article 8a of which obliges "[t]he contracting states undertake to cooperate among themselves by taking all the measures that they may consider effective, under their own laws, and especially those established in this convention, to prevent and punish acts of terrorism, especially kidnaping [sic], murder, and other assaults against the life or physical integrity of those persons to whom the state has the duty according to international law to give special protection, as well as extortion in connection with those crimes." This includes foreign heads of state as internationally protected persons.

The Christian Broadcasting Network should also be investigated for the potential illegality of using federally licensed airwaves to call for an assassination. In light of the $550,000 fine against CBS for the accidental airing of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," it would be extremely ironic if the CBN were not similarly punished for airing a call for terrorist homicide.

Considering the history of US involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected governments, along with the current US hostility towards Venezuela, the incitement by a key Bush supporter to kill democratically elected President Chávez should be a clarion call: It's time to turn over a new leaf in our policy towards Venezuela, and build relations of respect with the most popular democratically elected leader in Latin America.

Collateral Damage Made Real

I was wholly unprepared for the level of poverty and desperation I witnessed among refugees on a recent trip to Afghanistan. If you have never imagined the refugee camps, visualize a seemingly endless stretch of scrap-and-stick tents, filled with raucous children, lacking food, water, basic hygiene or infrastructure. Border it with stunning stark mountains, surround it with cold air and support it with dirt and dust. Then you will have an idea of the conditions under which Afghan refugees fleeing American bombs are attempting to survive.

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