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Alternative Visions: One No, Many Yeses!


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The World Trade Organisation - An Australian Guide
- 2006 Edition
Download the PDF version of this guide here

How to Respond? One No, Many Yeses!

The problems with the current global economic system are significant and fundamental, but they are also resolvable. If we want a fairer, more environmentally friendly system, we need to reclaim our roles and rights as citizens to determine our own futures, including how, and with what values, our societies work. The choice before us is not between the rules of the current global economy on one hand, and the chaos of no rules on the other. Rather, we can devise a different set of rules, with different strategies and goals.

Corporate-led globalisation and free trade have been challenged by developing-world communities for decades, and more recently by people in the industrialised world. The tens of millions of people around the world have stood up to protest the WTO's policies. While the people of the world have risen together to oppose the WTO's unfair rules, they have advocated a variety of different solutions to the problem of the global economy. The slogan "One No, Many Yeses" encapsulates the idea that while we come together to oppose the current global economic system, there are many possible alternatives and many possible futures from which we have to power to choose.

"Real" Free Trade as the Solution?

One response to the destruction wrought by the WTO's unfair rules has been to demand "real" free trade instead of the corrupt agreements which constrain the developed world but allow the US and EU to do whatever they like.

"Economic Integration in the global economy can be a source of shared prosperity and poverty reduction, or a source of increasing inequality and exclusion. Managed well, the international trading system can lift millions out of poverty."
– Oxfam, "Rigged Rules & Double Standards" (77)

"Real" free trade would mean the end of all subsidies to producers in the rich world, and market access for both poor countries to rich markets, and rich countries to poor markets.

International aid agency Oxfam has been one of the proponents of this proposal, arguing that increasing exports from developing country can help reduce poverty: "export growth can be a more efficient engine of poverty reduction than aid" (75).

Oxfam also suggests a range of reforms which would make the WTO fairer, including:

• A prohibition on rules like GATS which force countries to privatise basic services.
• New intellectual property rules which give poor countries the right to manufacture medicines and farmers the right to save seeds.
• A more democratic process for decision-making (76).

More Fundamental Changes Needed at the WTO?

"The WTO will not be able to continue in its present form. There has to be fundamental and radical change in order for it to meet the needs and aspirations of all."
– Stephen Byers, former UK Trade and Industry Secretary (79)

Many have also disagreed with Oxfam that freer trade is the answer to the problems of the global economy. Civil society groups like Via Campesina – an international organisation incorporating tens of millions of peasants, farmers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities from Asia, America, and Europe – argue that the WTO can only serve the interests of the powerful countries which dominate it. Instead of more trade liberalisation, Via Campesina is demanding a "full cancellation of the Doha Round and a major rollback of the power of the WTO."

Via Campesina argues that "a WTO trade deal . . . would have disastrous effects for rural economies world-wide and emerging industries in developing countries, creating more unemployment, poverty and increased pillage of natural resources by transnational corporations. Claims that increased liberalisation of international trade and the privatisation of natural resources and public services will create jobs and lift millions out of poverty are completely false. The contrary is the case!"

Instead of the WTO, Via Campesina suggests that "governments should assume their responsibility and set out policies at the national and international level that support and protect [agriculture, fisheries and public service] sectors, giving priority to domestic production and consumption in order to meet the interests and needs of their people. They should use the failure in WTO to take up the debate on international trade rules in other venues such as UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the UN Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD)" (78).

New Global Institutions Needed?

Some observers have suggested that the WTO needs to be replaced entirely by new global institutions to ensure fair trade. George Monbiot has suggested that the world needs a "Fair Trade Organisation" in order to balance trade between rich and poor countries and stop the exploitation of workers and the environment by powerful multinational corporations (80).

Monbiot's Fair Trade Organisation would prescribe and enforce environmental and human rights standards for all corporations which wanted to trade internationally, based on current International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UN standards. It would also prevent companies from monopolising global markets, and punish companies that flout human rights or environmental laws.

Walden Bello has advocated a strengthening of other international institutions like the UNCTAD and the ILO to counter the power of the WTO and move global economic governance "in a people-oriented direction", moving from a focus on economic efficiency to "capacity building". Such a move, he argues, must be part of a "paradigm shift" to a "more fluid, less structured, more pluralistic world, with multiple checks and balances" (81)

Others have suggested a Global Environmental Organisation to create global environmental standards and offset the damaging powers of WTO rules (82).

How such changes could be implemented is the real challenge. Perhaps the greatest potential for the development of new global institutions lies in the burgeoning social movements in countries all around the world that are fighting against free trade and corporate rule. Many of these social movements exercise forms of grass-roots democracy, collective organising and participation. These bottom-up social movements are networking increasingly within and across regions. They are developing systems of mutual solidarity that could eventually develop into new regional and inter-regional agreements.

Re-Localisation as an Alternative?

Another option is shifting focus from the global to the local. Many people, especially in the developing world, suggest that we need to need to build local alternatives to the global economy, so that over time we can gradually wean ourselves off it.

"We don't like money and markets from abroad to rule our villages; we want our nature and hard work to be utilized by us only to fulfill the need of every citizen. Let the right to water, forest and land be with our village communities. Our hard work is for self-reliant, equitable distribution."
- An Indian farmer group, in a letter to the Prime Minister of India demanding that he withdraw India from the WTO (83).

"Relocalisation", as this idea is often called, prioritises local environments, social systems, cultures, methods of economic activity and people's needs over the global economy. It is about seeing and valuing in the local environment what the global economy commonly devalues, steps upon or abuses. Relocalisation envisages a world based on local communities that are much more self-reliant than we are now. These communities would actively trade (within the limits imposed by the ecological impact of this trade) with each other in things they are not self-reliant in. They could develop cooperative systems of connecting regionally to provide those services that are best met more centrally.

These regional systems of decision-making, however, would have less power than the world's current system of nation-state governments. Democracy would be far more effective and localised. There would be less scope for political leaders to subordinate their people to serve the interests of the global economy, as many key decisions would be made by local community-based co-operatives.

Relocalisation would not necessitate putting an end to international trade or isolating ourselves from the world, but rather encouraging and reinvigorating local communities to be self-sufficient and strong.

"I sympathise, therefore, with those who would minimise, rather than those who would maximise, economic entanglement between nations. Ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality, travel - these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonable and conveniently possible, and above all, let finance be primarily national."
– John Maynard Keynes

We can progressively and gradually strengthen the process of relocalisation, while simultaneously weakening the global economy and the power of corporations and capital. Next, we outline some of the ways ordinary people can participate in relocalisation - through building local, socially just and ecologically sustainable systems and networks.

We are already living at least some of our lives outside the global economy and the dominating influence of corporations and market fundamentalism. Relocalisation provides us with an opportunity to gradually extend our freedom, creativity and richness in how we live economically, socially, culturally and spiritually. It could also help us to reduce humanity's impact on this precious Earth.

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