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Do You Want Free Trade - or Fair Trade That Helps the Poor?

Whenever the world trade talks begin to seem like a coma-inducing bore-a-thon, I am jolted back to consciousness by the throat-stripping smell of rubbish; miles of rotting rubbish. A few years ago I found Adelina - a skinny little scrap of an eight-year-old - living in a rubbish dump, where this stench made her eyes water all the time. It is this smell - and her sore, salty eyes - that hung over the corpse of the Doha trade talks this week.

 Just outside the Peruvian capital of Lima, there is a groaning valley of trash, and, inside it, hordes of children try to stay alive. Adelina spends her days picking through the refuse looking for something - anything - she can sell on for a few pennies. Then she returns to the few steel sheets she calls home to sleep on a crunchy carpet of cans. She has never left the rubbish dump; its walls are the walls of her consciousness. She told me three of her friends had recently died by falling into the rubbish, or being pricked by fetid needles, or slipping on to broken glass. I asked her how often she eats, and she shrugged: "I don't like to eat much anyway." She will be 10 now, if she has survived.

When we juggle the dry, dull statistics of world trade, we are really asking if Adelina will remain in her rubbish dump - and if her children, and grandchildren, will live and die there.

The way we - the rich world - organise the world trading system today traps Adelina. But it just broke. This week, in Switzerland, the poor countries of the world refused to play along with the Doha trade negotiations. The mass movement of ordinary people demanding our governments Make Poverty History that rose up in 2005 needs urgently to reconvene.

To help Adelina, we need to start with a basic question: how do poor countries turn into rich countries? The institutions that dominate world trade - especially the World Trade Organisation (WTO) - have a simple answer: all markets, all the time. They tell poor countries to abolish all subsidies, protections and tariffs that protect their own goods. If you fling yourself naked at the global market, you will rise. If the poor countries disagree, they are cajoled to do as we say.

There's just one problem: every rich country got rich by ignoring the advice we now so aggressively offer. If we had listened to it, Britain would still be an agrarian economy manufacturing raw wool, and the US would be primarily farming cotton.

Look at the most startling eradication of poverty in the 20th century: South Korea. In 1963, the average South Korean earned just $179 a year, less than half the income of a Ghanaian. Its main export was wigs made of human hair, and Samsung was a fishmonger's. Today, it is one of the richest countries on earth. The country has been transformed from Senegal to Spain in one human lifetime. How?

South Korea did everything we were pressing the poor at Doha not to do. Dr Ha-Joon Chang, a South Korean economist at Cambridge University, explains in his book Bad Samaritans: "The Korean state nurtured certain new industries selected by the government through tariff protection, subsidies and other forms of government support, until they 'grew up' enough to withstand international competition." They owned all the banks; they controlled foreign investment tightly. The state controlled and guided the economy to the international marketplace.

Full Story: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-do-you-want-free-trade-ndash-or-fair-trade-that-helps-the-poor-882551.html

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