Archive for the 'Global Institutions' Category

WTO Public Forum. To harness or to unleash, that is the question

October 5, 2007

Every year since 2001, the WTO hosts a two-day Public Forum at its headquarters in Geneva. This year about 1800 delegates from all over the world are attending an impressive number of seminars organized by “civil society” itself within the premises of the WTO. The public is a ragbag of the most varied interest groups. One meets hippie-types with deep-environmental agendas, students with future jobs in minds, academics selling their ideas, and all sorts of business lobbyists in suit-and-tie that are here to network hard. This year’s topic is “How can the WTO help Harness Globalization?”

The opening plenary session  on Thursday morning reflected the very ambiguous position the WTO has driven itself into. I was wondering whether it was still the guardian of a liberal economic world order or drifting towards becoming a development agency? The Secretary General Pascal Lamy displayed – in small – his big political skills. In his opening address, there was mainly talk of “Civil Society” Contributing, Aid-for-Trade, TRIPS, the-WTO and-the-Environment, Fisheries subsidies, Sustainable development, etc. Somewhere he does remind us that the core mission of the WTO is trade liberalisation – oh yeah, really? Almost forgot!

Although Lamy spoke of “civil society” in general his speech was addressed to the vociferous half of civil society that contests globalisation and free global markets. Lamy forgot – deliberately? – that the audience was also made up of people strongly in favour of “opening markets”. Fisheries issues are important, of course. And the problem of overfishing a question of lack of markets and too much subsidies. But the real bread and butter issues – opening markets further – are just stuck in the rut of the stalled “Doha Development” Round.

Lamy was in fact very clever in his choice of panel. He played the perfect “politically correct” game. He chose two women speakers – ah, yeah, gender equality: Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, and Olubanke King-Akerle, Foreign Minister of Liberia. One from a developed country, one from a Least Developed Country. One blond, the other black in traditional costume. Then he chose a man – a Singaporean diplomat-turned academic Kishore Mahbubani. Coloured, as opposed to Lamy’s white maleness. And what did the left-leaning-climate-change-obsessed-worker-right-policy-space-fanatics targeted in Lamy’s opening speech get served? Nothing to please them. Hard business talk. Ms Halonen, as good European, was the most “mainstreamy” speaker. Talking too of worker rights, fair deals, etc. But broadly supportive of the WTO and globalisation. Ms King-Akerle? Of course gender equality and fair and balanced trade deals. But the heart of her long, detailed and lively speech as minister of a postwar country not yet member of the WTO was: market access, business opportunities to raise income. Survival, real life. A “trade, quick!”- of sorts. Not, as one panel only peopled with Northern organisations (see programme) put it: “Slow Trade”.

The high point of the plenary session was the excellent speech of Mahbubani. Core message: contrary to what the theme of the WTO public forum indicates, one should not “harness” globalisation. The question should be: how to “unleash” globalisation! OK, he is Singaporean…. Yet Mahbubani’s speech is full of facts, figures and stories of how integration into the world economy – i.e. globalisation via economic liberalisation – lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, namely in Asia. High live free markets and related access to mobile phones, TV sets, house and home, so says he. He apologized for his “naïve enthusiasm” for globalisation, but his speech was a reminder of hard, politically incorrect facts. 

Outside the conference room after the plenary session, a lady, hippie-style-deep-environmentalist-fitting-the-cliché, came to me (Why Me?) and said something along the lines of “with globalisation one forgets about the environment! Millions more can now pollute and send gases into the atmosphere!” I didn’t want to provoke her and kept my thoughts for myself: So you want to keep all those millions in poverty? Environmental problems need to and can be tackled. But complaining about millions of people now polluting because they are finally having a decent life I did think scandalous after having heard the speeches of the Liberian and Singaporean. Some people just never learn.

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Shifting power equations: Russia and the IMF

September 26, 2007

Today, an innocent press release from the IMF following the visit of its Managing Director to Russia, reveals a lot about Russia’s position and the IMF’s standing in the world… Read the rest of this entry »

Shrewd politician… but is he really qualified?

September 7, 2007

There are now two offical candidates for the nomination of a successor to the IMF’s Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato.

Watch DSK’s blog dedicated to his bid to succeed him – political comunication is his strength. If anybody has any statements made by the alternative candidate Tosovsky, nominated by the Russians, please make them known. Is Tosovksy a symbol and a puppet? The Financial Times had a harsh opinion on Strauss Kahn:

The Fund, then, needs an intellectually credible head. But nobody could argue that Mr Strauss-Kahn is the best-qualified candidate in the world by his experience, intellect or training. His insistence that bridging the gap between rich and poor would be one of his priorities shows this. Macroeconomic stability is the Fund’s job. He seems to be running for president of the World Bank, a job taken, again, by a US candidate.

Yet even if Mr Strauss-Kahn were the ideal candidate, the method of his selection would undermine his presidency.

Emerging countries no longer understand why Europeans should determine who might dictate to them in any crisis, as if their old empires still existed. The IMF is either a global institution with a head chosen by the world, or it is an expression of Europe’s will to cling on to every scrap of its prestige and power. In this latter guise, the Fund will be shorn of all ­legitimacy.

Worst of all, no genuine European interest is served by forcing on the Fund a man who is neither qualified nor legitimate. Europe’s insistence on the old carve-up of the Fund and the World Bank with the US is as arrogant as it is foolish. The only interests served are those of politicians determined to preserve a time-worn droit de seigneur.”

Fresh start for the World Bank?

June 29, 2007

Where will the World Bank be heading under its new president Bob Zoellick? What is the real extent of the damage done by Paul Wolfowitz to the Bank? The FT has today a quite amazing analytical piece on the matter (walled for non-subscribers).

Here a few extracts: Read the rest of this entry »

International economic institutions – on eroding powers and too easy politics

May 14, 2007

The big international financial and economic institutions are in crisis.

You know what I mean:

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The Greek-tragedy-like Wolfowitz drama at the World Bank, Chávez’ pull-out of the World Bank and the IMF, Rafael Correa’s kick-out of the World Bank representative from Ecuador, the last rush to bilateral trade agreements by the US and the EU in a context of a faltering Doha round, are symptoms of a fundamental trend: the rise of emerging markets in the global economy and the subsequent erosion of power of the West and the institutions the latter has shaped in the Post-war period (see, on related topics, this post, this post, or this one, err, in fact, this entire blog…).

Fundamentally, all this is excellent news. Read the rest of this entry »