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Western Press Review: Davos Dominates Commentary

  • Alexandra Poolos

Prague, 31 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press largely focuses today on the discussion of globalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Russia and the Middle East also capture the attention of some commentators.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Timing and scope of liberalization matters

In today's International Herald Tribune, Martin Kohr says that trade liberalization should not be pursued automatically or rapidly in all countries.

The writer, who directs the Third World Network, a non-governmental organization based in Malaysia, says that some countries gain more than others during the liberalization process. And some, he says, don't gain at all, but rather suffer severe economic losses along the way.

Kohr argues that rapid liberalization of trade can lead to a widening of the trade deficit in developing countries. He says that liberalization will often bring a sharp increase in imports, but that exports can easily fail to keep pace. Tariffs imposed on goods from developing countries further upset the trade balance.

Kohr says that what matters is the timing and scope of liberalization and how the process is supported by other initiatives such as strengthening local enterprises. He says that the rich countries need to "correct the imbalances and inequities in the world trading system. They should buy more products from developing countries, but not press those countries to further open up."

Ultimately, Kohr says, developing countries must decide for themselves the scope and speed of their liberalization process.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The Internet has created the beginnings of a new interactive constituency for development

UN official Mark Malloch Brown says in the International Herald Tribune that one goal of economic forums like Davos is to discuss how new methods of communication can disseminate development information to countries in need.

The commentator, who is the head of the UN Development Program, writes that the Internet has created the beginnings of what he calls a "new interactive constituency for development."

In Malloch Brown's words: "The goal must be for information technology to deliver revolutionary breakthroughs in terms of giving the world's poor access to the global economy. The cost of the Internet and cellular technology is plunging. Wireless connectivity, combined with new Internet handsets that will retail for less than $50, are an incentive for the corporate sector to expand their horizons beyond a market of 1 to 2 billion people to 6 billion people."

But Brown says that this vision can be realized only if the right policies are put into place. Such policies include improving education in the Third World, supporting initiatives to ensure freedom of speech, reducing barriers to foreign ownership and removing regulatory and tariff restrictions that deter international Internet expansion.

He says that the digital divide will continue to grow if it is not addressed, as corporations will stick to the markets they know and developing countries will keep their doors closed, denying opportunities and access to millions of small enterprises in the developing world.

ECONOMIST: Multinationals spread wealth, work, technologies, and raise living standards

In this week's Economist magazine, an editorial argues that multinational corporations are not the destructive forces in the developing world that the anti-globalization protests say they are.

Many people, says the editorial, now think of multinationals as what it calls "big, irresponsible, monopolistic monsters," bent on destroying livelihoods, the environment, left-wing political opposition and anything that stands in the way of profit.

But while individual firms are capable of doing harm, the Economist says, as a class multinationals have a good story to tell. In the magazine's words: "In the rich world, foreign firms pay better than domestic ones and create jobs faster. That is even more true in poorer countries. But foreign forms are also the principal conduit for new technologies."

The Economist says that multinationals should continue to accept their responsibilities in developing countries, but that the global community needs to see them as a "powerful force for good." The magazine writes, "They spread wealth, work, technologies, and raise living standards and better ways for doing business."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Protesters against free trade are trying to protect developing countries from development

In today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, columnist Josef Joffe writes that what he calls globophobia -- or fear of globalization -- is a phenomenon of the wealthy world.

Joffe criticizes what he calls "the self-righteous ones from the 'First World'" who took it upon themselves to demonstrate in the name of justice for the Third World. He cites the complaint of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, who said caustically that protesters against free trade were trying to protect developing countries from development.

The German commentator writes: "Whoever is concerned about child labor, should make it easier for the mothers to work, so that the children can go to school. For to cry over poverty without helping the poor to help themselves -- that is a form of lofty hypocrisy."

The best way to create social equality around the globe, Joffe says, is to invest in "human capital" and in education and the ability of developing countries to integrate.

He concludes his commentary saying that an attempt to stop globalization is shortsighted and selfish: "Fairness would be better served by dialogue than by the dismantling of McDonalds."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Russia is in danger of falling off the wagon again

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal Europe says that Russia is in danger of falling off the wagon again.

The paper says that although acting President Vladimir Putin promised market reforms, the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law, in less than a month he has, in the paper's words, "stepped up an increasingly desperate and brutal campaign in Chechnya, brushed off international opposition to the war, and presided over the issuance of a new, hardened military doctrine."

The editorial says that Putin has staked his claim to the Kremlin in a combination of what it calls "populist militarism and Soviet-style paternalism."

The Wall Street Journal: "It is especially disturbing that neither the reality of resource constraints nor battlefield losses are allowed to interfere with the plans for military rejuvenation. Even journalists whose reports are considered unflattering are deemed a menace, as the bizarre detainment by the Russian military of a Radio Liberty journalist indicates."

TIMES: The West must take precautions to prevent Russia from believing it can do whatever it likes across its borders

The London Times runs a commentary today on the larger regional significance of the Chechen conflict. In the words of the Times: "Russia's southern neighbors are rightly alarmed by the twin phenomena of Russia's new nationalist energy and its huge military presence in and around Chechnya, which lies just inside Russian territory but close to their own lands."

The editorial says that in an attempt to protect themselves, Georgia and Azerbaijan have cultivated ties with the United States, their main selling point being the huge oilfields off Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea coast.

The Times asserts that Washington is carefully monitoring the Georgian frontier. The editorial says this: "Moscow has never fully come to terms with Georgia's independence; and since fighting started in Chechnya, Russia has castigated Georgia for allowing entry to 6,000 refugees and accused Georgia's president, Eduard Shevardnadze, of allowing weapons to reach Chechen rebels. [Although] Russian bombs have, accidentally, fallen on Georgian territory three times, nothing has come of Russia's promised investigations."

The Times says that the West has "queasily" accepted Moscow's explanation that it must crack down on terrorism emanating from Chechnya. But, says the paper, the West must take precautions to prevent Russia from believing it can do whatever it likes across its borders.

WASHINGTON POST: A strong message to Iraq can only be sent if the Security Council's permanent five members show more unity

Today's Washington Post runs an editorial that says the UN Security Council goal of ridding Iraq of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons remains unfulfilled. That goal, in the words of the editorial, was "stymied first by Clinton administration inconstancy, then by French and Russian shortsightedness, and throughout by [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein's deceit."

And says the Post, even with the recent appointment of Hans Blix as the new chief weapons inspector, the UN remains a long way from finding or even looking for weapons in Iraq.

The editorial says this: "In order to be effective, Mr. Blix needs the freedom to hire the best inspectors available. That means he must be allowed to recruit veterans of the last UN inspection outfit, which was expelled from Iraq at the end of 1998. Iraq is likely to object to such veterans and refuse them visas. If so, the UN Security Council must make it clear to Iraq's regime that international sanctions will be maintained indefinitely."

The Post says a strong message to Iraq can only be sent if the Security Council's permanent five members show more unity. The paper says that as long as China, France and Russia argue openly with the U.S. and Britain, "Iraq will see a chance to split the international community and not submit to inspections." (Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)