Globalization Foes Have Their Say
Poor Countries Unleash a Barrage of Criticism at Davos Forum
DAVOS, Switzerland This year, the World Economic Forum's annual celebration of globalization is turning out to be a showcase for its critics.
The forum, bowing to opponents who deride its elite gathering as the unacceptable face of global capitalism, invited a host of participants from developing countries, devoted countless sessions to development issues and even gave its annual meeting the lofty title, "Sustaining Growth and Bridging the Divides." But far from cooling passions, the broader dialogue exposed a yawning North-South gap in the globalization debate.
Leaders and senior ministers from several developing countries unleashed a barrage of scathing criticism here Thursday and Friday, saying that everything from inequities in trade rules and import barriers in industrialized countries to a shortage of aid and capital flows was denying developing countries many of the potential benefits of globalization.
"The wealth gap between rich and poor nations is widening, and the digital divide is getting worse," said Benjamin Mkapa, president of Tanzania. Globalization will deliver benefits to developing countries only if there is "sufficient and sustained will among industrialized nations and multilateral institutions" to enable developing countries to build the capacity to compete, he said.
As the leaders gathered in Davos, the concerns being aired by developing countries also took center stage half a world away, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where a shadow gathering of anti-globalization groups known as the World Social Forum was getting under way.
Brazil's agriculture minister, meanwhile, traveled to Davos to attack developed countries for maintaining costly farm subsidies, which he asserted were running at a rate of nearly $1 billion a day.
Brazil "cannot compete with the treasuries of Tokyo, Washington and Brussels granting subsidies," said the minister, Marcus Vinicius Pratini de Moraes.
"We have accumulated billions of dollars of trade deficits simply because we are not allowed to sell," the minister said.
India is preparing to lift its last import restrictions April 1 to fulfill its obligations under the World Trade Organization, said Yashwant Sinha, the Indian finance minister, but developed countries are not scheduled to lift their restrictions on textile imports until 2005.
"The South is not looking for charity," he said, referring to the developing countries in the tropics and Southern Hemisphere. "We are looking for equal opportunity."
The global trading system did not lack for defenders, or course.
Mike Moore, the WTO director-general, asserted that global institutions were not to blame for "those who have been locked out of the globalization benefits."
In an interview with the International Herald Tribune, he said the corporate world "needs to get out and be more assertive about what multilateral trade can do to create jobs."
Developing countries also need to take the initiative to integrate themselves into the global system, he said.
"We should ask ourselves why Singapore gets more investment than Africa, and the answer is that governments which welcome investment and trade will reap the benefits of globalization," he said. In a significant note of dissent from the critics, Mexico's new finance minister insisted that freer trade enabled his country to recover much more quickly from the peso crisis of 1994-95 than it did from its debt crisis in 1982.
He also contended that rapid wage growth among workers in Mexico's export industries had proved that developing countries had the most to gain from globalization.
"It is the privileged who have lost because of globalization, and it is the poor who have better opportunities," he said.
Supporters of the trade system acknowledged the need to take on their critics.
The anti-globalization protests that first erupted at the WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle in 1999 have become "a feature of modern political life," Mr. Moore said. "Anxiety has been globalized along with the global economy."
Laurent Fabius, the French finance minister, said governments needed to face the "challenge of public opinion," explaining the benefits of global trade and countering the "growing caricature" put forward by protesters that the global economy ignores social needs.
On the other side of the dialogue, even critics of the trade system did not question the inevitability of globalization.
The process "is an organic development and logical outflow of developments in science and technology," said Trevor Manuel, finance minister of South Africa.
The challenge, he said, is "to make sure that the benefits flow through
to the poor."