The imperative of joining the global market Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
September 23, 2002

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IN MAY 2000, Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur made a presentation here in Georgetown and posited that the Caribbean is the region of the world, which can least afford not to integrate. He was addressing participants of the Third Caribbean Media Conference, and he reasoned: “Indeed, if it (the Caribbean region) was fully to integrate its economic system, it would nonetheless go into the 21st century as the world’s smallest, most volatile and most vulnerable economic system. Not to integrate its various economies will serve to dangerously marginalise the various economies of the Caribbean Community in today’s world.”

Prime Minister Arthur went on to list the international organisations with which CARICOM territories have to do business. “The Caribbean has to negotiate a new relationship with Europe to come into effect in 2008. It has, at the same time, to secure its place in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). At the same time, and despite the debacle of Seattle, it has to participate in the multilateral trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in which there is a built-in agenda for agriculture and services that simply cannot be ignored by Caribbean states.”

And Mr Arthur was so right. As difficult as the process may seem, countries of the region will have to confront the prospect of joining the World Trade Organisation if they are to survive as viable states with the hope of accessing the boundless economic prosperity that is promised.

This doctrine of trade liberalisation seems to have two dramatically opposed faces. Those who spread its gospel see it as the bringer of all good things to competent workers and companies in any part of the world. One such believer is British Parliamentarian Dennis MacShane who argues in a November 1999 issue of NEWSWEEK that the removal of barriers to trade has not caused world poverty, but revealed it. He noted that there are hundreds of millions of people who have a better life today than what obtained in the 1960s because of world trade. “Life expectancy has shot up everywhere; decent healthcare is no longer the preserve of the rich north. A liberalised world economy has allowed millions more people to reach adulthood and to have children,” MacShane writes. He cites the fact that in 1960, South Korea had a per capita income of US$250, and that today that country exports whole auto plants to provide new jobs and an entry into the world market for workers in East Europe and Latin America. MacShane posits that historically, the anti-globalisation backlash represents the revenge of the 19th century over the values of the 18th century. “On the one hand are those who welcome the international economy and understand the need for post-national rules set up by imperfect but necessary international bodies. On the other hand are those of left and right who want national or ethnic vetoes on any interference from outside,” he states.

Mr MacShane is correct up to a certain point. It is true that more people in certain circumstances are enjoying a lifespan only dreamt of two generations ago. Ordinary people in Guyana can purchase garments for a third of what it would cost them to buy materials and pay a tailor or a seamstress to make a comparable outfit. Dozens of imported food items are available at costs far below what local producers demand for comparable items. As a result, local small industries are slowly being edged off the shelves, and then out of business.

In the words of one Brazilian writer, the process of globalisation has the potential of dividing the people of the world into two groups -- prosperous producers and a permanent underclass condemned to poverty and economic oblivion. This division could even happen within nations with devastating consequences for social stability.