Letter: We need the Gatt deal, but not at the poor's expense

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Sir: As he says he learnt so much about world trade from a short visit to Washington ('If the talking fails, tighten your belts', 30 September), one can only wonder at the education Hamish McRae might receive by visiting poor areas of Africa or Latin America. He rightly warns of the dangers of a retreat into protectionism, but if world trade is to be freer, then it must also be fairer and aimed at enabling all of the world's people to share in its benefits.

That, rather than a spat between the United States and the EC, is the central problem with the Gatt deal currently on offer. It is a charter for strengthening the power of the rich countries and transnational corporations at the expense of the poor and dependent; because, far from levelling the playing field, it tilts it even further in favour of the former.

It would also vest with an unaccountable global body responsibility for setting standards in products and services, further eroding civic authority in economic and social development. National laws protecting the environment, for example, would be overridden by decisions of the proposed Multilateral Trade Organisation, an unelected institution dominated by corporate interests.

The caricature of the French farmer standing in the way of prosperity for all conceals the Gatt's real threat to the economic welfare of the majority of the world's people, in the North and West as well as the South and East.

The intransigence of those who refuse both to add social standards to Gatt and to democratise the institutions of international economic relations represents a far greater obstacle to a prosperous and peaceful future than tractors and livestock blocking French roads will ever do.

Yours sincerely,


London, N16

30 September