THE FIRST law of negotiating is never to be out of the room when crucial decisions are being made. The problem with The Independent's leading article on the supposed benefits of deregulated trade to the world's poor (which also criticised pressure groups like mine) is that when the rules are being written, poor countries cannot afford to be there.
Twenty-nine of the least developed countries, which represent at least 81 million people, have no representatives at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva, and therefore cannot protect their interests. If the rules are rigged, as The Independent admits, then more free trade won't help poor countries; it will do the opposite.
Even the World Bank says that poor countries have been "taken to the cleaners" during the last round of WTO trade talks.
Introducing new issues to the WTO, as the British Government wants, will worsen the problem. For aid agencies to point this out is not cynical and anti-trade; it is accepting brutal political realities. I can also think of hardly any campaigners who would want to give the WTO the right to judge labour and environment issues.
There is a large body of evidence available from Unctad, the United Nations' specialist body on trade, to suggest that the effect of globalisation and liberalisation on large and small low-income countries is at best hard to predict, and at worst clearly negative.
China's entry to the WTO seems to be driven by the desire of US corporations to gain access to lucrative telecoms and financial service sectors. In return the US makes a promise of delayed access to its own market for textiles.
For all to benefit from trade, we need the right rules of engagement. For the fox to trade with the chicken, we need fencing and the right length of leash.Reuse content