Brief, gaudy hour for developing countries

Guyana Chronicle
December 7, 1999

FOR JUST a brief, gaudy hour, the people of the developing countries may allow themselves to savour the sweet defeat of the forces of global capitalism which occurred last week at the meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle, Washington State. For in spite of all the pre-conference literature of the planned protests by hundreds of non-governmental organisation (NGOs), not many people believed that the combined voices of thousands of interests groups and the bleating of trade ministers and experts in international relations could ever derail the agenda of the World Trade Organisation, the most implacable world force to emerge since the end of the Cold War.

United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, who was the chairperson of the doomed meeting, announced with some measure of hope that the discussions would now move to Geneva, where the WTO was based, and that the "time out" would allow Director-General Mike Moore to consult with members in order to narrow differences with the objective of reconvening the meeting later. However, Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, described the Seattle meeting with Delphic authority: "History has been made in Seattle as the allegedly irresistible forces of corporate economic globalisation were stopped in their tracks."

Mr John Sweeny, President of the AFL-CIO commented: "Despite the lack of breakthroughs in policy, this week produced a stunning breakthrough in the public debate over globalisation. Americans crossed a threshold to begin a truly national conversation about rules and standards and values in the global economy, and they were joined by citizens across the globe."

Yet, as Guyanese-born Regional Negotiator for CARICOM Sir Shridath Rampal said in an interview with Rickey Singh on Sunday, the failure of the meeting to arrive at a consensus was due in part to "a combination of factors". Not least among them was the forthright speaking out of delegate, after delegate over the inequities of the system of global trade and its detrimental effects on the economies of countries now struggling to overcome the impact of structural adjustments. These countries, like Guyana, are burdened by debt servicing and threatened by the sometimes volatile world market prices for their raw materials. Not only are such economies woefully unready for the knife-edge competitiveness of the global marketplace, they are unable to garner their natural resources and prepare them in time to take advantage of the opportunities that will be offered when free trade becomes a way of life in the early years of the third millennium. In the area of human capital, poor nations lack the finances, the technology and the state-of-the-art communications systems to impart the skills and the training and the all-round readiness for the information-age functioning.

In this fleeting respite, while the World Trade Organisation regroups for the next onslaught, developing nations need to pool their ideas and devise shortcut mechanisms to prepare sections of their economies for high level efficiencies in the manufacturing process. Heady though it may seem, this gaudy hour will soon be over and the inexorable march of global capitalism will continue.

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