Free Trade and the 'Starving Child' Defense | The Nation


Free Trade and the 'Starving Child' Defense

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Dennis Brutus

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Dennis Brutus is a South African poet and activist who speaks frequently on debt and development issues. He teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

If you look at the agenda of the WTO in Seattle and what it was hoping to accomplish, it was really an expansion of its current program--penetration of the developing nations, further expansion of corporate power there and continued and accelerated exploitation of those regions. So, contrary to the claim that the poor lost out in the failure of the talks, I would say that we saved the developing world from being even more exploited than it is at the present time. Our position from the South is: We're going to restart; we've got to rethink and above all try to change the relationship between the South and the developed countries of the North.

When some unions in the North protest the WTO, it's because they see themselves and their rights under attack. But on the whole, I think, more and more--and this was demonstrated in Seattle--we have trade unions and workers working with students and community activists and talking about a more equitable relationship, not only in the developed countries but in the developing countries as well.

When the countries of the North say through the WTO, "We want to take down the trade barriers so that we can enter with our investment, with free movement in and out," they are the beneficiaries. They may claim that the countries of the South are going to benefit--and there may even be superficial benefits, and certainly if there is an elite in a country willing to cooperate there will be a piece of the action for them. But for the mass of the people the situation does not improve. And the medicine that is being offered is going to make the patient worse, not better.

I want to give you an example. All over Africa, and I'm thinking particularly of places like Zimbabwe and Zambia, there was a pretty good indigenous publishing industry in terms of publishing for schools and colleges--textbooks and readers and so on. And often these were paid for by government purchases or government subsidies. But you had a reasonably good educational-publishing situation. Then, the British and American publishing firms move in with a glossy product--more attractive, more expensive to produce, but they can sell it cheaply in competition with the local product--and they succeed in wiping out the local product. So, number one, of course, the product disappears, the local industry disappears; and two, when they now have a monopoly on the market, they can also dictate the price of the product, and they can, in fact, make it so expensive that it becomes inaccessible for most of the people in that community.

As we said in Seattle, no new round, we want the turnaround.

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