Right of Reply: Ed Mayo

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The Independent Culture
The director of the New Economics Foundation replies to an article by Diane Coyle that argued in favour of the free trade system run by the World Trade Organisation ONE THING has been learnt in the past decade's tug-of-war between governments and market players: markets need rules, a fact ignored by Diane Coyle. They require property rights, contracts, national and international law, accounting rules and disclosure, enforcement, police, courts, reliable tax collection and civic values.

Remove such social institutions, and markets descend into chaos, criminality, violence and the Mafia. But the form of trade liberalisation promoted by the World Trade Organisation is not about building rules, but dismantling them. As a result, the WTO has been dragged from one controversial decision to another - bananas,fur animals caught in leg-hold traps, genetically engineered maize and shrimp-turtles.

Global environmental rules, too, have been set aside. Why should trade liberalisation trump other considerations? It is as if the UK were governed by the Department of Trade and Industry.

We need a fundamental change in the rules governing the world trading system. One example is the way the WTO deals with "non-discrimination". A founding principle is that countries should not discriminate between products on the basis of how they are produced. But this is a crazy idea. Discriminating between products that are produced in a highly polluting manner or by workers locked into sweatshops is fundamental to a more civilised future.

There is already a body of global standards, such as ILO conventions on employment, human rights treaties and the Montreal Protocol on CFCs, on which to base protocols for national action.

The WTO Seattle agenda is like a rusty car with an overheated engine, leaking oil. Anyone who thinks it can make a round-the-world trip should look at fresh alternatives.