WTO and the sin of protection

World Trade Organization talks collapsed in Geneva this week when developing nations declined to give up the right to impose protective tariffs in…

World Trade Organization talks collapsed in Geneva this week when developing nations declined to give up the right to impose protective tariffs in the case of a sudden influx of cheap imports.

In a fit of frustration, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab described this stand as “blatant protectionism.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines blatant as “flagrant, unashamed.” In other words, the adjective implies guilt. In the globalist world, it is a sin to protect Third World farmers.

By an odd quirk of language, it’s not at all blatant to protect giant agribusinesses in wealthy countries.

The same agreement, if signed, would have permitted the US to increase farm subsidies up to $14.5 billion.

If you are a farmer in the Third World, the chances are you scrape a bare living by selling your produce in the local market. When that market becomes flooded by cheap subsidized foreign food, you go broke.

Most likely, your only option is to move to the slums where, if you’re lucky, you and your children may be able to compete for sweatshop jobs. This is what the WTO calls “lifting millions out of poverty.”

Since NAFTA, millions of Mexicans have been lifted, if not out of poverty, at least off their land, by an influx of subsidized American corn. The same is true for thousands of slum-dwelling Haitians who once farmed rice, and for the now-extinct small-scale Caribbean banana farmer.

According to Schwab, “In the face of the global food price crisis, it is ironic that the debate came down to how much and how fast could nations raise their barriers to imports of food.”

The question arises, where is the irony?

After 30 years of the WTO and its globalist project, millions, even billions, are still poor.

In many cases, poorer than ever.

True, the millions of cars smogging up the Beijing air belong mostly to people who have improved their incomes since Chairman Mao’s time, but while many have improved their lot, many more are starving.

When all the farmers have given up and moved to the slums, the only food left to eat comes from imports. And we all know what happens once local competition is squeezed out.

For people living in poverty, a rise in the price of food can cause starvation.

This situation occurred in much of the developing world this year.

Now that global warming has become so obvious a fact of modern life that even Canada’s Conservatives have acknowledged its existence, it’s about time we took another look at so-called “international free trade.”

What exactly does the world get in return for all the oil we spend on container ships, besides millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases?

The globalist deal is fairly simple. Wealthy countries offer market access to their well-heeled consumers.

All we ask in return is everything you have: your resources, your environment, your dignity as workers, and finally your independence as a nation.

A great deal of effort goes into convincing the citizens of both poor and wealthy countries that this is a good deal.

Here in the West we get cheap trade goods, for which we have traded well-paying jobs.

In the Third World, they get poor-paying jobs, for which they have traded their air, their water, their culture and their economic sovereignty.

In both worlds, the stock of billionaires increases dramatically.

The globalist deal is offered regardless of your human rights record, your political system, your threat to world peace, your treatment of workers, your environmental standards — no wait, strike those last two.

You will be required to maintain very low wage, safety, and environmental standards in order to remain competitive.

There is nothing sacred about the WTO’s vision of untrammeled international trade.

Globalism does a great job of increasing wealth, but it fails miserably at distributing it fairly.

It encourages overuse of resources, both in manufacturing and transportation, and it hastens the growing climate disaster.

After the WTO deal’s collapse, an angry Schwab told reporters, “It is unconscionable that we could have come out with an outcome that rolled the global trading system back not by one year or five years, but by 30 years.”

Well, better late than never.

Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.