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November 05, 2005

Naomi Klein on Trade.

There’s something that puzzles me here. I agree that the indigenous population of South America have been on the shitty end of the stick for the past 500 years. I agree that their political organisation is a step forward for democracy and so on. But one thing about what Naomi Klein says I really don’t get:

In the past year the Nasa of Northern Cauca have held the largest anti-government protests in recent Colombian history and organised local referendums against free trade that had a turnout of 70%, higher than any official election (with a near-unanimous no result).

Their free-trade referendums have been imitated by non-indigenous unions, students, farmers and local politicians nationwide;

And although Bush didn't take up Hugo Chávez's offer to hold an open debate on the merits of "free trade", that debate has already happened in the continent's streets and ballot boxes, and Bush has lost.

Indigenous movements are indeed a threat to the free-trade policies Bush is hawking, with ever fewer buyers, across Latin America.

I realise that Ms. Klein is a little out of the loop on matters economic but what’s this obssession with free trade? Being against it I mean. It’s the one thing we know of that would do the most to haul the poor of the world up out of their destitution. Why this admiration for people so misguided that they vote against their own self-interest?

November 5, 2005 in Trade | Permalink


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The answer is simple: When Bush, Mandelson, Klein, Chavez and the like talk about "free trade", they aren't talking about free trade as you or I understand it, but the thing that the USA and EU have to sell: A complete opening of borders by the third world, while the west subsidises agricultural production, and maintains tariffs and quotas against imports.

The effect is to leave the third world with nothing to sell but its natural resources, no internal or external investment except in resource extraction, and nothing else. At least, that's the picture in some places. Notably, the places that aren't like that are poor because they had some industrialisation, but it was managed badly by the state (India, China).

Of course, not all of this is the fault of the west or its model of "free trade": Some of those failed states and states with political environments that make an AK the best yielding investments weren't actually destabilised by the conscious actions of western actors.

Posted by: Marcin Tustin | Nov 6, 2005 7:28:39 PM