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Western Press Review: Globalization Issues Again In Limelight

Prague, 23 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Anti-globalization activists were out in the streets of the Canadian city of Quebec over the weekend, protesting outside the Summit of the Americas.

The meeting, which brought together the leaders of 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere, saw the signing of an agreement to form a pan-American free-trade zone by 2005. The zone will stretch from Canada to Chile, making it the biggest such free-trade area in the world.

Tens of thousands of people staged peaceful rallies against the accord, saying that economic globalization, which involves the removal of trade barriers, favors big corporations and harms the poor. Not all the demonstrators were so peaceful, however, and a minority of them clashed repeatedly with police.


There is much international press comment today on the phenomenon of globalization and the hostility it has generated. Writing in the "New York Times" (published in today's "International Herald Tribune") under the heading "Why Sentimental Anti-Globalizers Have It Wrong," Paul Krugman recalls an old saying -- namely, anyone who is not a socialist before he is 30 has no heart, while anyone who is still a socialist after he is 30 has no head.

Krugman says that suitably updated, this saying applies perfectly to the movement against globalization. He writes: "The facts of globalization are not always pretty. If you buy a product made in a Third World country, it was produced by workers who are paid incredibly little by Western standards and probably work under awful conditions. Anyone who is not bothered by those facts, at least some of the time, has no heart."

But he says that doesn't mean the demonstrators are right. "On the contrary," he writes, "anyone who thinks that the answer to world poverty is simple outrage against global trade has no head, or chooses not to use it."

Krugman asks, could anything be worse than having children work in sweatshops? Alas, yes, he says. In 1993, child workers in Bangladesh were found to be producing clothing for a U.S. store chain, and a U.S. Senator (Tom Harkin) proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers. The result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children, and they ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets.

Krugman continues: "Third World countries desperately need their export industries -- they cannot retreat to an imaginary rural Arcadia." His conclusion is that "many of the people inside that chain-link fence [attending the summit] were sincerely trying to help the world's poor. And the people outside the fence, whatever their intentions, were doing their best to make the poor even poorer."


Krugman mentions socialism in passing, But in an commentary in the British "Independent" daily, Mark Seddon focuses on this issue. He says "the protesters are anti-capitalist -- but why aren't they pro-socialist?"

Seddon goes on: "The disparate groups that make up the growing international anti-globalization movement dramatically flexed their muscles in Quebec City over the weekend, as thousands of trade unionists, environmentalists, and human rights activists joined hands again to protest against plans for NAFTA 2, a 'Free Trade Area of the Americas.'"

He writes further that the protest was "a glorious jamboree of sub-culture, color, and passion, spoiled by the darker side of violent anarchists." He adds: "At the start of a new century, we are witnessing the birth of a powerful movement against corporate domination of government and the all-conquering free market."

On the surface, Seddon says, there is little to unite trade union members who see their jobs exported, and environmentalists dressed as Ninja turtles protesting against global warming. But, he says, "what they do share is a powerful critique of globalization, and utter disillusionment with the political process."

In other words, Seddon suggests that the fragmentation of leftist ideology has left people traditionally of the left without orientation, thus clearing the way for extremism. He writes: "Where once well-stewarded columns of trade unionists and their families came to demand dignity in labor and drink in a vision of a better world from leaders who thought they knew how to attain it, now there is a volatile, angry crowd of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised."


In a commentary for the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Leo Wieland looks at what was achieved in Quebec, despite the teargas-stained eyes. He writes: "The 34 leaders of the western hemisphere gathered there behind an unsightly fence accomplished precisely what they set out to do: They strengthened their resolve to create a pan-American free-trade zone by 2005 and reached agreement on a 'democracy clause' that would grant admission to their club only to countries with an acceptable form of government."

Wieland stresses the importance of this goal of democracy, given the region's historical background. He writes: "What is taken for granted by host nation Canada and the neighboring United States is for many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean a requirement that deserves every available encouragement. Memories of rightist military dictatorships and leftist tyrannies are all too real, so that those assembled felt inclined to pat themselves on the back since they were all elected."


Writing in the "Washington Post," Sebastian Mallaby uses the Quebec summit as a starting point for consideration of another international economic problem, namely the woeful state of the economies of Turkey, Argentina, and Indonesia. Mallaby notes that this week (starting 26 April) "brings another international financial jamboree, the spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington." And, at the moment, says Mallaby, these spring meetings may matter more. That's because trade liberalization, as sought in Quebec, "is a noble medium-term objective."

But, Mallaby adds, "at a time when three key countries are wobbling on the brink of financial meltdown, unequivocal support for the international institutions that could help them is a more urgent priority."

Mallaby explains his proposition. He says: "The first wobbler is Turkey, a member of NATO and an important ally in a region where the United States is short of reliable partners. Then there is Argentina, which is central to the administration's ambition for a closer relationship with Latin America and which accounts for a fifth of emerging-market government bonds held by international investors. The third wobbler is Indonesia. With a population of more than 200 million, Indonesia is a potential counterweight to China."

Mallaby says U.S. President George Bush needs to help these countries, by supporting rescue packages, even if his rightist advisers may tell him "that bailouts merely encourage irresponsible behavior by investors, and so must be avoided".

Mallaby concludes that the test is going to be Turkey: "Unlike the Argentines and Indonesians, the Turks are explicitly asking for outsiders' money to support a tough economic reform program." The Turkish government is said to need between $10 billion and $12 billion, some of which could be supplied by the World Bank and the IMF. But some of the cash would have to come from governments of the G-7 group of advanced democracies, including the United States. Unless Washington displays leadership to bring this about, Mallaby concludes, it is "unlikely to happen, and the Turks will be left to drown."