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Global Trade Watch E-Newsletter #53 - April 2008

 

Contents:

1) News from Global Trade Watch
2) Good News for (a) Change
3) Upcoming Events
4) Take Action!
5) Global Trade News

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1) NEWS FROM GLOBAL TRADE WATCH

* * Editorial: Rudd Government Trade Policy Looking Just as Fundamentalist as Howard's

When Kevin Rudd and the ALP were elected to government late last year, there was a palpable sense of hope that as Prime Minister, Rudd would bring a freshness and change to the stale, divisive policies which Howard had pursued for over a decade.

A sense of this had been imparted by Rudd's 2006 essay for The Monthly magazine entitled "Howard's Brutopia", in which he criticised Howard's pursuit of "liberalisation in economic policy and . . . "modern conservatism" in social policy" in all his government's policies. Rudd used the essay to rail against "neoliberals" – those who espouse "market fundamentalism" – and ask whether "traditional social values of family, community and country are compatible with the ruthless economic utilitarianism of a market in which rampant individualism is dominant." He concluded with a the call to arms to "forge a new coalition of political forces across the Australian community, uniting those who are disturbed by market fundamentalism in all its dimensions and who believe that this country is entitled to a greater vision than one which merely aggregates individual greed and self-interest."

Since taking power, however, there has been a growing sense that far from offering a alternative to Howard's market fundamentalism, the Rudd Government is simply continuing the same policies, perhaps even more enthusiastically.

Take, for example, the area of trade policy. In January last year, then-Shadow Trade Minister Simon Crean criticised the "spaghetti bowl of bilateral agreements" which the Howard government had negotiated as "political trophies, not as part of a consistent and strategic approach to improve trade opportunities". Crean pointed out that "In all three bilateral free trade agreements signed by this [Howard] Government (Singapore, US, and Thailand), our trade position has deteriorated with these countries." In November that year, Crean promised "new thinking on trade policy" should a Rudd government be elected.

One could be forgiven for imagining that, amid the promises of "new thinking" on trade, and the 2020 Summit's promise of "new ideas", that some new thinking or new ideas might be allowed to emerge. Not so. On trade, the Rudd Government is pursuing the same tired, stale policies which Howard pursued. Far from opposing market fundamentalism and neoliberalism, Rudd and his Trade Minister Crean have continued to pursue Howard's neoliberal "free" trade agreements (FTAs), particularly bilateral agreements, with vigour.*

In China earlier this month, Rudd announced that "We have agreed to 'unfreeze' what have been the frozen bi-lateral negotiations for a free trade agreement between Australia and China. We have reaffirmed our commitment to bringing those negotiations to a successful conclusion as soon as possible." The very same day, the Trade Minister announced a feasibility study into an Australia-India FTA, arguing that "“High quality FTAs can bring considerable economic benefits", less than six months after pointing out that all of our previous FTAs have failed to do so.

Then last week Mr Crean warmly welcomed a study into an Australia-Korea FTA by free-market extremist and big-business lobbyist Alan Oxley - a neoliberal if ever there was one - in turn noting that "we are committed to pushing ahead with FTA efforts" with Korea.

But don't be too concerned: Crean has also announced two "comprehensive" reviews of our trade policy, presumably to give him frank, fearless, independent advice he's not currently getting from his staff and from bureaucrats. The first review, of Australia's export policies, is being conducted by Mr David Mortimer, Chairman of Leighton Holdings Ltd, Australia Post, and Crescent Capital Partners, together with Dr John Edwards chief economist for HSBC bank, former first adviser to Macquarie Bank and former chief economist for Societe Generale bank.

The second review, into Australia's bilateral FTAs, is being conducted by Professor Kym Anderson, Lead Economist (Trade Policy) in the Research Group of the World Bank; by Andrew Stoler former Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and former Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States to the WTO; by Peter Gallagher, consultant to the WTO since 1999 and former CEO of the Australian Dairy Industry Council; and by Dr Nicholas Gruen, an economist formerly with the Business Council of Australia and the Productivity Commission.

It's not only that these are all the same, stale, neoliberal voices from big business, the World Bank and the WTO, the same voices which dominated trade policy during the Howard Government, voices which are in no way "independent" and can't possibly come up with "new ideas" on trade policy. (Though clearly they are, and can't). It's also that there is clearly no scope whatsoever in these reviews for those who would like to respond to Rudd's call for those "who are disturbed by market fundamentalism in all its dimensions and who believe that this country is entitled to a greater vision than one which merely aggregates individual greed and self-interest."

* To clarify, while these agreements are supposedly about "free trade", they are in fact more like bills of rights for corporations, covering a variety of areas which have almost nothing to do with trade at all. It has been pointed out that a real free trade agreement would be about 2 pages long, and would simply include a statement from all countries involved which agreed to lower all tariffs, quotas and subsidies to zero.

These "free trade agreements", however, more often number 1000+ pages, and include 20-30 chapters which cover almost every sector of the economy. These chapters lay out in detail the rights of foreign investors in each area, restricting governments' ability to regulate everything from healthcare and education, local content on TV and film, quarantine rules and government procurement policies. The US-Australia FTA even included a promise from the Howard Government to fully privatise Telstra, even though at the time the government did not have a majority in the Senate.

Indeed, parts of modern FTAs actually increase rather than decrease industry protection - particularly in the area of intellectual property rights. Here, FTAs act to protect and extend the monopolies which corporations have over their products courtesy of patents and trademarks - from 50 to 70 years for trademarks in the US-Australia FTA, for instance. Intellectual property has little to do with trade, but it's included in FTAs because it's on the agenda at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) where - according to trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati - " the matter was forced onto the WTO's agenda . . . by the pharmaceutical and software industries, even though this risked turning the WTO into a glorified collection agency."

** If, despite what you've just read, you'd like to make a submission to the review of Australia’s export policies or of our FTAs, it's a chance to raise its concerns to the government about the social and environmental impacts of FTAs. The Government has released an Issues Paper as a way to help guide submissions. If you'd like to make a submission, they need to be in by May 2. Submissions need not be long nor in depth - just make your voice heard! Email to [email protected] or post to Review of Export Policies and Programs, c/-Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, BARTON, ACT 0221.

* People & Planet International Photo Competition - WIn up to $1,500 for your Photos

Many of you would be familiar with Global Trade Watch's annual publication People & Planet: A Social Justice & Environment Diary, which raises funds for our campaign work. We'll, now's your chance to have your own photos published in the 2009 Diary! We're looking for images which tell a story about a person, group of people or place, and which link to a social-justice or environment issue.

The best three photos will win cash prizes: 1st Prize: A$1,500, 2nd Prize: A$750, 3rd Prize: $A250, and the best 55 images will be published in the People & Planet 2009 Diary. You can submit up to 4 photos per entrant. Competition closes 4th of July.

Full details at http://www.peopleandplanet.org.au

* Win a FREE copy of "Bad Samaritans: Rich Nations, Poor Policies & The Threat to the Developing World"

Last year prominent Cambridge economist Ha Joon Chang published an excellent new book, "Bad Samaritans: Rich Nations, Poor Policies & The Threat to the Developing World." Bad Samaritans shows how the rich countries which now call for free trade from the world's poorest – countries like the UK and US – achieved their wealth not through free trade, but rather through aggressive protectionism. Chang calls for the developing world to be allowed to use these same measures to more out of poverty, rather than the free trade, privatisation and deregulation which is now being imposed on them. You can read an article summarising some of the points Chang makes in Bad Samaritans here.

Thanks for Random House, Global Trade Watch has 4 FREE copies of Bad Samaritans to give away to our members. So if you'd like a FREE copy of Ha Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans, you're in luck: support fair trading systems by joining Global Trade Watch TODAY (or any day before Friday May 9th) for a chance to win a FREE copy of Bad Samaritans: http://www.tradewatch.org.au/membership.html

* "Fighting FTAs" - New publication and website on resistance to bilateral free trade and investment agreements - email for a free copy

While global trade talks at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) stagnate, governments and corporations are busy spinning a complex web of bilateral free trade and investment agreements (FTAs). Through these secretive deals, states and corporations are trying to divide and conquer the world, creating vast new privileges for transnational corporations. Typically, FTAs cover a broad array of issues, from giving corporations the right to sue governments, to legalising the dumping of American farm surpluses, to raising the cost of life-saving medicines through longer patent terms. FTAs further concentrate economic power and natural resources in the hands of a few, disempower communities, destroy biodiversity and undermine food sovereignty.

"Fighting FTAs: The growing resistance to bilateral free trade and investment agreements", is a new publication from bilaterals.org, BIOTHAI and GRAIN, which looks at what this FTA frenzy is really about, how social movements are fighting back and strategic lessons which are emerging from these struggles. You can download a copy online at http://www.fightingftas.org

Global Trade Watch also has 50 free hard copies of "Fighting FTAs" to give away, so if you'd like a free card copy of this publication, just email us at: [email protected] and we'll post you a free copy (within Australia only).

* Squeezed: The Cost of Free Trade in the Asia-Pacific - DVDs still available for just $10

Have you seen GTW's popular and powerful 2007 film, Squeezed: The Cost of Free Trade in the Asia Pacific yet? Filmed in Thailand and The Philippines in July 2007, Squeezed tells the story of how free trade agreements and globalisation are changing the lives of millions of people living in the Asia-Pacific region. If you haven't seen it yet, Global Trade Watch still has DVD copies of Squeezed for sale for just $10. Buy yourself a copy today, or give it as a gift: http://www.tradewatch.org.au/squeezed.html

* Are you a graphic designer or desktop publisher? We want your help!

Global Trade Watch is looking for a graphic designer to volunteer some time in March/April to help lay-out our new publication "Free Trade or Fair Trade: An Australian Guide". If you think you could help, drop us an email at [email protected]

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2) GOOD NEWS FOR (A) CHANGE

* Jubilee Act for debt cancellation passes the US House of Representatives!

Leaders of churches, development agencies, civil rights, labor, and human rights groups have praised the passage by the US House of Representatives by a vote of 285-132 of the Jubilee Act. The legislation calls the US Treasury Department to negotiate a multilateral agreement for debt cancellation for up to 24 additional poor countries that need cancellation to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In addition to authorizing broader debt cancellation, the bill seeks to reform current IMF/World Bank policies and other global lending practices by:
• Urging that more resources be devoted to grants for the world’s poorest countries;
• Requiring greater transparency at the IFIs, including a policy of maximum disclosure in project and loan documents;
• Urging the development of a binding framework for more responsible lending practices in the future;
• Limiting the conditions that may be required of countries going through the debt relief process to those ensuring that money released by debt relief is used transparently and accountably to address poverty; and
• Directing the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to undertake an audit of “odious, onerous, or illegal” lending by the World Bank, IMF, and US government in specific countries.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate, where the bill enjoys strong bi-partisan support and 26 co-sponsors.

“Passing the Jubilee Act is a leap forward for the U.S. in living up to its promises to fight global poverty,” said Gerald LeMelle, Executive Director of Africa Action. “For years, the chains of illegitimate debt have crippled the ability of African countries to provide healthcare and education for their citizens. I applaud the House of Representatives for passing this bill, and urge the Senate to demonstrate a similar commitment to smart, people-driven development policy.”

More Info...

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3) UPCOMING EVENTS

NATIONAL

* May 3-18 - Fair Trade Fortnight - See below for individual events.

MELBOURNE

* Sat May 3, 7pm - Black Gold film screening - Black Gold explores the world of multinational coffee companies which now rule our shopping malls and supermarkets and dominate the industry worth over $80 billion, making coffee the most valuable trading commodity in the world after oil. But while we continue to pay for our lattes and cappuccinos, the price paid to coffee farmers remains so low that many have been forced to abandon their coffee fields. Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. Tickets $15 at the door. WHERE: Kino Dendy (Collins St, Melbourne CBD).

* Friday 9 May, 12-10pm (all day) - Fair Trade Fiesta: A Fair Trade Market and Fashion Show in one event - Spend a few hours to browse the ever widening range of fair trade products including crafts, fashion, and Fairtrade certified coffee, tea, chocolate, sports balls and other products. The Fair Trade Market is in the Atrium at Fed Square from 12 – 10PM. Fashion Fights Fair is an evening of fashion from designers addressing social, environmental, and ethical issues, hosted by musician Clare Bowditch. BMW Edge 8-10PM. See the Vic FTF website at http://www.ftf08.com.

* Tue 20 May, 7pm - Public Forum on Global Governance/Cosmopolitanism - In many senses globalisation has brought us closer together. However it has also enhanced the ability of the developed world to exploit everyone else. Instead of the unity we were promised we have a greater disparity in living standards and wealth. So what sort of globalisation could actually bring us together? Can global networks of NGOs help bring us together in a way our government's have failed to? Can it be the key to greater understanding between cultures and nations, were our similarities bind us together creating a cohesive world order? Can we move beyond nationalism to a single moral community? Speaker: Sue Kenny (Deakin University). WHERE: Horse Bazaar, 397 Little Lonsdale Street. More info: [email protected]

SYDNEY

* Tues 6 May, 6-9pm - Fair Trade Fiesta - To celebrate Fair Trade FortnightBe part of the global Fair Trade movement by joining us for a provocative and enlivening evening! Savour delectable food prepared by Kylie Kwong using the finest Fairtrade products, sample organic wines, explore the wonderful variety of Fair Trade foods, clothing, gifts and textiles and discover why around the world Fair Trade is hot! ” WHERE: Paddington Town Hall. Entry Fee: Entry price $15 includes food prepared by Kylie Kwong , organic wine and a free Fair Trade jute bag. Free Parking available in the Gold Members car park at The Sydney Cricket Ground ( 5 minutes walk ). RSVP to [email protected]

BRISBANE

* Friday 9 May, 6:30-10pm - Fair Trade Fiesta - The fiesta will feature circus acrobats, music, drummers, fair trade markets and food, and celebrity tshirt competition. WHERE: Marymac Community Centre

PERTH

* Sunday 11 May, 5-11pm - Fair Trade Fiesta - Featuring entertainment, fashion and lifestyle show, bar and catering facilities. 6pm - Short Film Festival of Fair Trade; 7pm - Ethical and Lifestyle Fashion Show; 8pm - Café Collective - World Music Show: Zigatango, Exodus, The Sneaky Weasel Gang. WHERE: ArtRage Complex, Northbridge.

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4) TAKE ACTION!

* Don't let Bechtel off the hook in Ecuador!

Bechtel's at it again. The same corporation that spurred the infamous "Water Wars" in Bolivia in 2000 thinks that it can get away with the same irresponsible tactics, this time in the neighboring country of Ecuador. Bechtel, a U.S. corporation based in San Francisco, has cut off water services from poor people, dumped raw sewage into rivers, and provided residents with contaminated water, leading to an outbreak of Hepatitis A in 2005. Now, realizing that the privatization scheme has failed, Bechtel is trying to sell-out to another private corporation, flee the country with the profits and leave its debts and contractual promises behind.

But Ecuadorians are saying, "Enough!" They will not permit Bechtel to flee without taking responsibility for this disaster. And you can help. The Ecuadorian regulatory agency recently fined Bechtel's water company $1.5 million for violating its contract. And more than 10,000 people have signed a petition demanding the cancellation of their debt to the water company.

Can you add your voice by sending a letter to Bechtel's CEO, Riley Bechtel? He needs to know that the world supports Ecuadorians defending their right to clean, affordable water.

Tell CEO Riley Bechtel not to make the same mistake twice...

 

* Talk to Dove before they destroy PNG's Paradise Forests

Unilever, the makers of Dove beauty products, are buying palm oil from suppliers who destroy Indonesia's rainforests. They're causing forest destruction, species extinction and climate change. Together we can make the company stop destroying forests for palm oil. Join the international Dove campaign today - watch the short video and sign the open letter here...

 

* Did you know that over 40,000 people from Bangladesh are at risk of losing their homes at the hands of a UK company?

Global Coal Management - based in their cosy office in London - are pushing through plans to build an open cast mine in Phulbari, Bangladesh. A mine that will destroy the homes of more than 40,000 people, and threaten the water supply of a further 100,000. The people of Bangladesh are protesting against this new mine and are now urging us to do the same. Please send an email to the director of GCM Steve Bywater to demand that they pull out of this project...

 

* Help Oxfam Australia call for an independent investigation after shooting in Philippines

Oxfam Australia is calling for an independent inquiry to determine whether the opposition of residents in a remote community in the Philippines is being appropriately responded to by Australian based mine operator, OceanaGold. The move follows reports that a security guard from the mine shot and wounded a villager. Sign the petition to demand that OceanaGold respond to community concerns...

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5) GLOBAL TRADE NEWS

* BILATERAL & REGIONAL FREE TRADE AGREEMENT NEWS *

* Rudd may give China investment rights (21 Apr) - The Rudd government is considering giving cashed-up Chinese companies the same investment rights enjoyed by the US in a bid to revitalise free-trade talks, including the right to invest up to $1 billion at a time without having to seek approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board. More...

* Oxfam: rethink unfair EU trade deals before it’s too late (21 Apr) - The EU will do irrevocable damage to the development prospects of some of the poorest countries in the world unless it overhauls free trade deals due to be finalized this year, said Oxfam in a report published today. More...

* Food safety on the butcher’s block (18 Apr) - The United States is using bilateral trade agreements to arm-twist weaker countries into accepting its food safety standards as a tool to expand the market control of US corporations. South Korea is the latest victim. More...

* PM pushes trade ahead of human rights (11 April) - Kevin Rudd has put Australia's trading relationship with China ahead of concerns about human rights abuses in Tibet, reigniting free trade talks and launching a new climate change partnership after meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. More...

 

* WORLD TRADE ORGANISATION NEWS*

* Rising Food Prices Could Affect WTO Talks (21 Apr) - The rising food and fuel prices, with related social destabilisation, may necessitate a ‘‘course correction’’ in the liberalisation talks on industrial goods and agriculture, the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of nations told World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director General Pascal Lamy at the end of last week. More...

* Lamy Pushes Ahead With Services Liberalisation (21 Apr) - WTO Director General Pascal Lamy announced at the end of last week that there will be a limited ministerial ‘‘signalling’’ conference on services trade chaired by himself. More...

* Why Food Import Surges Are an Issue at The WTO (7 Mar) - Food import surges have had devastating consequences for the rural poor and local economies in Africa. Such surges have taken place with alarming frequency in the past decade or two. More...

* Rudd may be pinning his hopes on trade policy that is past its use-by date (5 Mar) - Kevin Rudd and his Trade Minister, Simon Crean, are very clear on the direction for trade liberalisation under a Labor Government. In a speech to the Lowy Institute, Crean says he wants the "central focus" to be multilateral, via the WTO. More...

 

* WORLD BANK & INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND NEWS *

* IMF: The Times They Are A-Changin' (14 Apr) - Have things changed at the International Monetary Fund? Or is the world just witnessing yet another in a long series of global economic double standards? More...

* The World Bank's carbon deals (10 April) - The World Bank's foray into the carbon market paves the way for business-as-usual, while short-changing clean, renewable energy, the poor, and ultimately the climate. More...

* IMF governance renovations: fresh paint while foundations rot (1 Apr) - The shareholders of the IMF have squandered the political will for governance reform of the institution by making marginal changes that will fail to shift the balance of power. More...

* A Marxist at the World Bank (28 Mar) - The appointment of Justin Yifu Lin as World Bank Chief Economist is big news: this is the first time this position is held by a citizen from the developing world. Yet the real surprise is that Lin is known for his criticism of the Washington Consensus, and particularly of shock therapies and mass-scale privatizations, two policies actively promoted by the Bretton Woods institutions in the last two decades. More...

 

* OTHER TRADE & GLOBAL JUSTICE NEWS *

* UNCTAD Hears Gender Inequality Becoming Worse - and Better (24 Apr) - The only way that the poor, particularly women, will benefit from all the efforts that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has put into improving global trade is to ensure that power inequalities are redressed. More...

* Civil society groups call for establishment of Commission on Globalisation (23 Apr) - Civil society groupsfrom around the world have called for the establishment of a new Commission on Globalisation and Development Strategies within the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). More...

* Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights (Apr 08) - Written by John Ruggie, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, this report presents a conceptual and policy framework to anchor the business and human rights debate, and to help guide all relevant actors. The framework comprises three core principles: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and the need for more effective access to remedies. Full Report...

* So, Back to Regulation, Then (20 Mar) - The financial crisis around the world marks the end of neo-liberal globalisation and the beginning of a new era of regulation of the global economy, political leaders and economists say. More...

* The Cult of the Market: Economic Fundamentalism and its Discontents (2007) This book disputes the practical value of the shallow, all-encompassing, dogmatic, economic fundamentalism espoused by policy elites in recent public policy debates, along with their gross simplifications and sacred rules. It advocates a more overtly experimental, eclectic and pragmatic approach to policy development which takes more seriously the complex, interdependent, evolving nature of society and the economy. Download the full book free here.


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