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USA: Alternative Summit Meetings Examine Globalization

by Grant McCoolReuters
September 5th, 2000

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NEW YORK -- Activists, businessmen and government leaders met on Tuesday in the shadow of the U.N. Millennium Summit, agonizing over the future of economic globalization following the disruption of the WTO in Seattle and how to narrow the widening gap between rich and poor.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a key player in the breakup of the communist bloc 10 years ago, told the fifth annual "State of the World Forum" that since then "the gap between rich and poor has grown, globalization has been privatized by a few countries."

A few blocks away at a separate conference, activists who protested against the World Trade Organization in Seattle late last year and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C. last spring, warned the United Nations about "becoming an engine for corporate globalization."

They cited the U.N.'s Global Compact with corporations such as Nike and Royal Dutch Shell, which have been implicated in human rights violations.

"What we think the U.N. should be doing is making corporations accountable on the world stage," said Joshua Karliner, executive director of the San Francisco-based Transnational Resource and Action Center. "The U.N. needs to change because globalization has changed the world and U.N. values and principles need to be applied to corporations that operate across borders."

The two gatherings were taking place the same week as the U.N. Millennium Summit attracting more than 150 heads of state in the largest gathering of world leaders in history. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the Sept. 6-Sept. 8 summit a global debate to help billions of people escape poverty, particularly in developing countries.

The risks and rewards of an integrated world economy have been a big international issue for policymakers since the financial crisis of 1997-99 drove home the dangers that the free flow of capital across borders poses to both emerging markets and industrial countries.

Critics Attack IMF Policies

Critics blamed the IMF in particular for making things worse with its policies, which have required developing countries that sought its help in times of crisis to raise interest rates and shut down inefficient industries.

Martin Khor of Third World Network, Malaysia, said in an interview at the activists' "Teach-In" sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization that IMF and World Bank financing programs for developing countries should be re-modeled.

"There are tremendous implications for hundreds of millions of people," said Khor, who was scheduled to speak at both forums outside the United Nations this week. "So those policymakers particularly in the United States and Europe have to think through what their policies mean because a policy mistake which they are promoting through the IMF or the WTO can lead to life and death for people in the developing world.

"I'm not saying kill free trade. This is a complex reality and don't come forward with simplistic prescriptions."

Gorbachev, who called for the creation of a U.N. economic security council with the same status as the U.N. Security Council when he addressed the world body as Soviet leader in 1988, suggested the idea again on Tuesday in remarks at the four-day forum he is chairing. The forum brought together business and labor leaders, heads of government, nuclear disarmament activists, civil society, religious groups and scientists.

Civil Society's Role in Shaping Economy

Participants in the two conferences appeared to agree that the role of non-governmental organizations, or civil society, was very important in shaping the global economy with respect for labor, environmental and human rights.

"They are transmitting public opinion in an organized form," Gorbachev said. "Consequently, politicians and businessmen should understand that they should deal with them with seriousness, responsiveness and constructively because otherwise we'll see Seattle again and again and again."

Demonstrators in Seattle late last year and representatives of developing countries caused the collapse of a round of negotiations on the rules governing world trade drawn up by the WTO. A minority of protesters ran riot, causing $3 million in property damage.

Billionaire financier George Soros, whose Open Society Institute has funneled money and resources into various causes, particularly in Russia and Eastern Europe, told the conference "we have to find a way to mobilize civil society in favor of international law and international institutions.

"I'll be frank, I have no clear idea how to go about organizing it."

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