What's wrong with globalisation?

The word globalisation is normally used to describe a cluster of "neo-liberal" (i.e. free-market) policies that minimise the regulatory role of the state and aim for the removal of all barriers to international trade and investment. It is Thatcherism writ large, and should not be confused with progressive internationalism, or liberalism in a social context.


The most notable current manifestations of globalisation are the free trade agreements administered by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which was set up in 1994. These agreements stress the principle of non-discrimination between domestic and foreign-supplied goods and services. In practice, it means that regulations to protect working conditions, the local economy or the environment can, if they are viewed as directly or indirectly discriminating against foreign companies, be overturned as 'restraints on trade'.

If a WTO member country believes that its companies are being discriminated against, it can complain to the WTO, where the matter will be judged by a dispute resolution panel. The hearing is closed and the decision binding. Countries with expensive teams of lawyers and lobbyists have an advantage here over poor countries. If the complaint is upheld, the complainant is allowed to impose tariffs on unrelated products from the offending country.

The WTO's Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement allows patenting of crops and seeds, often to the detriment of the indigenous peoples whose traditional knowledge has been hi-jacked by transnational corporations.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tried to establish a Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI), which would have given foreign investors the power to sue elected governments for loss of profit. The MAI was copied from the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) which famously forced the Canadian Government to pay a fine, withdraw product safety regulations and issue a grovelling apology when an American manufacturer sued it for loss of anticipated profit. However, the MAI talks collapsed in Paris in 1998.


What's wrong with globalisation?


The WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is an ongoing set of negotiations to extend the concept of free trade by allowing foreign firms to compete with domestic firms for the provision of both private and public services (at least those where a profit can be made). It is like a slow motion, low-profile MAI. The ultimate effect of GATS, heavily influenced by transnational service corporations, could be the privatisation and commercialisation of most services around the world.

A new round of GATS negotiations began in 2000, to extend the agreement's scope in areas such as transport, telecommunications, retail provision, education, energy and water supply. Opponents see it as a threat to state monopolies such as the National Health Service and to national or local authority regulations that may be viewed as discriminatory against foreign service providers.

These massively complex negotiations are being conducted sector by sector on a "request-offer" basis, under which countries request that other countries take commitments to "liberalise" particular services in a given sector (such as telecommunications). Some requests are for a "horizontal" or across-the board liberalisation in all sectors.

GATS negotiations are being conducted by Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy on behalf of all EU members, including the UK.

The UK Government's position

Governments of both parties have been strong supporters of the WTO. Our DTI says that "as a major global exporter of services, second only to the US, the UK strongly supports the GATS negotiations". Tony Blair refers to globalisation as if it were an inescapable force of nature rather than a deliberately chosen policy that his government continues to push forward.

The Conservative position

A search for GATS on their website yields zero results, but they are even more enthusiastic than the Labour Government on cutting regulation to attract inward investment: "We will press the EU to work for a further strengthening of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) (Manifesto: Conservatives in the European Parliament); "We will campaign for an EU/North Atlantic free trade agreement and then global free trade by 2020" (Manifesto: "Believing in Britain"). Eurosceptics are vulnerable here: why are they concerned about loss of sovereignty to the EU but indifferent to loss of sovereignty to transnational corporations and unelected organisations like the WTO?

The Lib Dem position

"May I ask the right hon. Lady to emulate her colleague's forthright and occasionally courageous stance against some of the myths of the anti-globalisation movement, which are influential and do great damage? In particular, will she dismiss the currently fashionable myth that the World Trade organisation exists to undermine public health and education, when it does nothing of the kind?" (Vincent Cable, Lib Dem Shadow Secretary for Trade and Industry, House of Commons Nov 7 2001)

The Green Party position on globalisation generally

In the long term, the WTO should be replaced with a more accountable, decentralised body, which aims to protect and enhance social and environmental conditions, and to develop strong self-reliant regions where individual communities meet more of their own needs. We need less international trade, not more.

Our short-term objectives are:

The Green Party position on GATS

In its response to the Government's 2002 consultation paper on the GATS negotiations, the Green Party points out that:

Particularly objectionable features of GATS include The Green Party of England and Wales is calling for

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Published and promoted by Brian Fewster on behalf of the Green Party and himself as candidate at 89a Winchester Avenue, Leicester LE3 1AY.