Speech about Third World Economics

Linked with Martin Khor – Malaysia, with Third World Network TWN,

by Martin Khor, Director of the Third World Network, at the Opening Session of the Millenium Forum, UN General Assembly Hall, New York, 22 May 2000.

Excerpt: … These countries’ economies had suffered during colonialism, so in the first phase of independence, governments of many of these countries instituted measures to boost their weak domestic economy, domestic firms, banks and farms. They had affirmative action policies in favour of the local economy and firms, and defended them from predatory big foreign firms. These big firms now want to break down the barriers so that they can take over the local firms and farms of the developing world and increase their monopoly. Thus we now see the liberalisation of trade, finance and investment. But in areas where the big companies and their governments would lose from liberalisation, they practise protectionism, for example the imposition of high intellectual property standards throughout the world which is protectionist, in creating monopoly of technology by the big compaies and hindering technology transfer.

Globalisation as practised today is a kind of apartheid, a term mentioned by Juan Somavia, director-general of the ILO in his speech just now. It is misleading and it skirts the issue to talk only in terms of “sharing better the benefits of globalisation” and helping the “marginalised.” This presumes that globalisation only produces benefits, but some gain more than others. In reality, globalisation creates benefits for some, losses for others, and worse, the same process that generates benefits also generates losses. So, part of the benefits of the gainers is at the expense of the losses of the losers.

Globalisation is a process that can be called re-colonisation, a term created by Mr Raghavan of the SUNS Bulletin, when he wrote a book on Gatt, the Uruguay Round and the South. A new form of colonialism is operating. When the people fought against slavery, or apartheid, or colonialism, they did not speak in terms of sharing better the benefits of slavery or apartheid or colonialism. They fought the systems of slavery, apartheid and colonialism themselves. So too, we cannot just talk of sharing better the benefits of globalisation. We have to fight the system of the globalisation we have today.

The crux of the problem is the unequal distribution of power and wealth in the world. We must recognise this and not skirt the issue. Those that hold power and wealth want to keep it and protect it. Thus we see the double standards that exist between what is preached towards others and what is protected for themselves to maintain the monopoly of power and wealth. There has been the successful campaign to ban land mines, a victory of the people’s movements. But the nuclear powers still refuse to ban nuclear weapons. There is much talk and conditionality to get transparency and democracy going at the national level, and we NGOs have been part of this campaign in our countries. But the major countries refuse to democratise at the international level, where the global decisions are taken mainly by the G8 or the OECD or the Bretton Woods institutions and WTO, without the adequate participation of smaller nations, let alone the civil society. There has been the great pressures of the rich countries to get the poorer countries to liberalise their economies, but the North practises protectionism when they insist on patenting their technologies, when they practise bio-piracy, when they do not open their doors to labour coming from the South … (full text).

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