15, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- The Guardian, 09/08/03:
The World Trade Organization is a corrupted, co-opted,
captured institution, but all those who care about global
justice should be fighting for its survival. Every time
we shout that the WTO has got to go, we join hands with
George Bush: he wants to destroy it because it impedes
his plans for direct US control of other nations' economies.
In principle, the poor members of the WTO can and should
outvote the rich ones. In practice, its democratic structure
has been bypassed by the notorious "green room"
meetings organized by the rich nations, by corporate
lobbying and by the secret and unaccountable committees
of the corporate lawyers it uses to resolve trade disputes.
All this must change, but it is now clear to me that
to call for its destruction is like calling for the
dissolution of a corrupt parliament in favor of the
monarchy: it is to choose unilateralism over multilateralism.
Our key task is not to overthrow the WTO, but to assist
the poor nations to use it to overthrow the power of
In theory, the rules the WTO enforces are supposed
to prevent protectionism by the rich nations while permitting
a degree of protectionism by the poor ones. The principles
behind this are sound. Most of the countries that are
rich today developed with the help of "infant industry
protection": defending new industries from foreign
competition until they are big enough to compete on
equal terms. The policy makes sense. Established industries
have capital, experience and economies of scale on their
side; infant industries in poor nations do not. Developing
in direct competition with big business overseas is
like learning to swim in a torrent: you will be swept
away and drowned long before you acquire the necessary
expertise. Rich countries, by contrast, have no need
for protectionism, but by defending their markets against
imports from poor nations, they prevent the transfer
In practice, because of the way in which the rich members
of the organization have been able to subvert its processes
and bully the poor ones, the WTO does precisely the
opposite. The "special and differential treatment"
it offers the poor nations is both utterly feeble and
routinely blocked by the IMF and the World Bank, which
insist that their clients drop all their protections
in order to be eligible for loans. The "technology
transfer" the WTO has long promised the poor has
never materialized. The rich nations, by contrast, are
permitted to protect their farmers, their textile producers
and their steel millers, and to grant their companies
ever greater rights over other people's intellectual
Instead we need a clear and non-negotiable sliding
scale of trade privileges. The very poorest nations
should be permitted, if they wish, to fully protect
their infant industries, just as Britain did during
the early days of the industrial revolution or the US
between 1789 and 1913. As they become richer, they would
be forced to gradually drop these protections. The very
poorest countries should also be allowed free use of
rich countries' intellectual property, for trade within
their own borders and with other poor nations.
These measures, of course, are fair only in so much
as they permit the development of economies and the
transfer of wealth between nations. They do not deal
with the other great source of injustice: the corporations'
ability to force nations into destructive competition,
abandoning the laws defending workers and the environment
in order to attract their custom. Truly fair trade requires
a further set of measures: corporations should not be
allowed to trade between nations until they can show
that they are meeting the standards set by the International
Labor Organization and the UN.
The WTO would therefore become a licensing authority,
a bit like the health and safety executive in Britain.
Like those participating in voluntary fair trade today,
all corporations engaged in international trade would
be obliged to employ monitoring companies, which would
ensure rules were respected and report back to the WTO.
Any corporation employing slaves or using lethal machinery,
banning unions or tipping toxic waste into rivers would
be forbidden from trading internationally. If we were
to add the provision that all companies should pay the
full environmental cost of the resources they use, we
would possess a complete mechanism for ensuring only
the nice guys survive.
None of this would be possible without a world trade
organization. In helping the poor majority to pursue
this agenda, we can transform the WTO from a body that
enforces unfairness into one that makes economic justice
the principle by which the world is run.
George Monbiot is the author of The Age of Consent:
a manifesto for a new world order. http://www.monbiot.com