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Category: International Date: 29 Jul 01

“Why do these wishy-washy liberals from rich countries that create problems for us in the first place, presume to protest on behalf of developing countries they know nothing of, get publicity and then return to their cushy lives?”


So asked an angry young West Indian businessman, referring to protests against globalisation, at the G8 conference in Genoa.


“Well, one young man died for it. Many got injured and arrested. Their hearts are in the right place, and if those wishy-washy liberal protesters don’t speak for smaller, developing, and poor countries, who will? How many African, Central American, Asian, Indian, West Indian voices did you hear among them?” I argued.


“G8 leaders can afford to dismiss those protesters because they have no credible voice. We people of developing countries have failed to articulate our position on globalisation, so we deserve to be ignored. We have no lobbying power because we either take extreme unworkable positions or dance to the tune laid down by G8 countries who beat us with the globalisation stick only when it benefits them.”


“Globalisation means seeing the world as a unit, rather than separate parts. Globalisation is also linked to the shabby pensioners I saw this morning, shuffling through the grocery isles, choosing between sardines and milk, unable to afford either; and the man in Tobago who died in a ditch, and the thousands of faces of refugees and starving people from television.”


He agreed: “And if we say we are a global village we need to operate like one.”


He was sounding like a frustrated closet economist.

“We need a modified version of globalisation that is more equitable and will produce a win-win situation between the developed and developing world. It’s time we work on a model that benefits everybody.”


“We do.”

I was referring to the late Frank Rampersad, a regionally and now internationally acclaimed Trinidadian economist. He wrote a seminal paper, his last, on the effects of globalisation on small countries. His body was giving up on him but with extraordinary prescience, he articulated almost to the last, with that razor-sharp mind, ways to level the playing field and reduce poverty in developing countries.


It’s called: “Coping with Globalisation: A Suggested Policy Package for Small Countries,” published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, July 2000.


Rampersad believed unstable exchange rates and protectionism are among the biggest problems developing countries grapple with as a result of globalisation.


He used America as an example. This super power strides the world preaching a lowering of tariffs and barriers to small, vulnerable countries, especially in the areas where we have competitive advantages, including food, textiles, and in our case, steel. America and the EU spend billions of dollars subsidising their farmers, dumping excess food. They tout free market economies but only practise it when it’s convenient.


In Rampersad’s words:

“Developing countries must press their case more vigorously for a special regime to be applied to them in international trade and finance. The US agreement of “no free riders” is nonsense, when it is made to apply to these countries which have limited opportunity for diversification of their production base, encounter severe obstacles in seeking access through migration to the industrialised countries where employment opportunities exist, and the resulting extreme volatility in their incomes.”


Rampersad was saying to the G8 countries: “If you want us to back globalisation, play fair; take the burden off those least able to afford it.”


He painted three scenarios - suggestions to narrow the gap between poor and rich countries within the context of globalisation.


Scenario 1: He supported Jeffrey Sachs proposal for “A group of 16 in the UN” representing developed and developing countries. That would be a lobby to persuade donor countries to increase their international aid effort to reach the UN-agreed target of 0.7 per cent of GNP to flow to poor countries through regional aid agencies. In this scenario, Rampersad suggested, the World Bank would become a development bank, focusing attention on markets and technology, and push for more self-reliance in guiding development of the economies of poor countries.


Scenario 2: He suggested the grouping of Western Hemisphere countries in order to withstand large movement of speculative capital.


Scenario 3: Drawn from the Carlsson/Ramphal Report, Rampersad suggested the creation of an apex body in the UN. This would focus global attention on poor countries. Funded by the Tobin Tax and a tax on the arms trade, it would operate essentially as the hospital in the global village (my analogy) and “mount meaningful efforts in addressing some of the worlds ills,” most of which thrive in poor countries, including “famine, Aids, desertification, river blindness, loss of biodiversity.”


Rampersad placed equal responsibility on developing countries and developed countries to improving the lot of the world’s poor. For too long, he said, we have allowed ourselves to be dictated to, with “stunning arrogance” by the international financial community, especially the World Bank and the IMF.


Rampersad’s is a timely reminder that under globalisation, superpowers spread and share economic pneumonia, but do not spread or share wealth. But this myopic type of double standard from superpowers comes at a price.


Here at home we need to start with creating safety nets for our poor and begin pushing for a regional lobby to articulate our position on globalisation.


World leaders and G8 countries ignore credible voices speaking on our behalf, such as Rampersad’s, at our own peril.


The real backlash, if globalisation continues to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, will be world depression - one disease which can sink us all.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur