January 15th 2000

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Articles from this issue:

BOOKS: 'Robert Menzies: A Life', by A.W. Martin


Letter from France - Farm subsidies a fact of life in Europe

DRUGS - Towards a drug free society

EDUCATION - Different abilities; different outcomes

FAMILY - Women and civilisation

The age of depopulation

CANBERRA OBSERVED - Peter Costello: when will he run?


ECONOMICS - Seattle conference: what did it all mean?

INDONESIA - Indonesia's dangerous year


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Seattle conference: what did it all mean?

by News Weekly

News Weekly, January 15, 2000
The media, who have arrogated unto themselves the role of interpreting the world to us, have been wrestling with a problem of what to say about the events in and around the World Trade Conference in Seattle. Not surprisingly they concentrated upon the demonstrations - shades of Vietnam - and have said little of importance about the WTO itself. The demonstrations were important but they have gone, while the WTO and the very serious divisions revealed by the virtual collapse of the Conference, have not. Nor will they.

The whole project of global Free Trade was junked by the European Union, by Japan, and by the United States, the original driving force, leading propagandist and enforcer.

As in all the other international groupings created by the rich and powerful States, the message was: 'Do as we say, not as we do.' Refusal to comply on the part of the poorer or weaker states will be met by economic or financial disincentives. Which will soon force the rebels back into line.

The powerful states, wholly in response to their various domestic lobbies, have virtually refused to open up their agricultural markets to the free passage of farming imports, refused to end tariffs, quotas, or their own agricultural subsidy systems. In fact, the US is increasing hers, the better to undercut cheaper products by countries such as Australia. After all, every year is an election year for the US.

But, at the same time, the big players are demanding unimpeded entry for goods and services which, at this point in time, have a strong competitive advantage over those being produce by poorer, smaller economies.

The powerful States and their economic spokesmen say that they represent the forces of progress, the inevitable march of technological excellence and systemic rationalisation; but this progressivist doctrine is shelved in any area where they are at a comparative disadvantage.

Thus maintaining quite archaic and cost inefficient areas of agriculture in being is OK. Why? For social reasons, such as keeping farmers in work and their communities viable.

I agree that these social criteria are important - even decisive - but why exclude them from the scenes of manufacturing and small business, which have their own labour force, their own communities. It was really an attempt to impose the doctrine of Might is Right in Seattle - and that attempt failed.

One is seeing this increasing unworkability, or the emergence of big divisions, producing stand-offs and deadlocks, in one Western-controlled international institution after another.

The UN is semi-paralysed for more and more of the time, its role usurped by NATO or by unilateral Anglo-American military or punitive economic interventions.

The Human Rights multinationals, and the Aid industries are being called into question more and more - and steadily losing credibility and legitimacy because of their unaccountability, uncontrollability, their unelected status and their almost wholly Western-centric agenda and value systems. And the selectivity of their application.

The same objections apply to the ways in which War Crimes tribunals are being set up, ad hoc, under American inspiration, in some areas, and for some political enemies, but not for others.

The World Bank and the IMF encounter more and more resentment and resistance. Indeed, the only thing still missing to start shaking the world economic and political system is a unifying formula whereby the numerous opponents of Western capitalist hegemony can unite.

One sees Russia and China being slowly but surely brought together, in joint defence of core interests and gradually setting aside their hitherto important differences.

This situation was reproduced in the ranks of the Seattle demonstrators, who comprised people running many different agendas but united in their opposition to the present order of things.

But if the US and their Western friends continue with their hardline policies and donÕt even practise what they preach, we face a situation of instability and conflict, internationally and internally.

.c1.- Max Teichmann

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