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Globalisation - History

After the Second World War the International Trade Organisation (ITO) was set up to liberalise international trade. In 1947 the ITO established the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). This was initially an agreement designed to curb increases in cross-border tariffs, but in subsequent decades its goal changed to reducing tariffs and the ITO became the spearhead for international trade liberalisation.

Since 1947 there have been eight 'rounds' of trade negotiations with each round progressively pushing back tariffs and increasing the scope of tariff-reduction to include health, agriculture and the environment. The last round of negotiations, the Uruguay Round 1986 -1994 led to the formation of a more powerful trade organisation the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and expanded the scope of the GATT further to include rules on intellectual property rights, investment and services.

The stated goal of the WTO is to facilitate greater trade between countries by removing barriers including tariffs, and to act as a mediator when trade disputes arise between countries. The WTO is an intergovernmental organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland. It has 149 member countries. Each member is obliged to treat all other members equally and treat domestic trade on equal terms with foreign trade.

Trade decisions are made by the WTO which favour large corporations but have negative impacts on people, the environment and local economies in both developed and developing countries.

The trade blocks, the transnational companies and the lobbying organisations, a coalition of major corporations, are at the forefront in lobbying for ongoing negotiations on a free-trade agreement. They have connections with top government officials and billions of dollars at their disposal, making this lobby a formidable force. Three of the largest lobbying groups in the US are the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) and Business Roundtable.

When they are not in power, many politicians work directly for these transnational companies as advisers or on their board of directors. However, when they are in power they work for these companies indirectly. For example until the year 2000 the US Vice-President, Mr Dick Cheney, ran Halliburton Oil.

Other powerful lobby groups in Europe include the European Services Network/Forum (ESN/ESF) and the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) . In Australia there are: The Business Council of Australia, Australian Business Roundtable, Australian Chamber of Commerce (ACCI) , Free Enterprise Association and the Australian Industries Group.

Companies lobbying for economic liberalisation are: Caterpillar (heavy-equipment); Boeing (aircraft); Cargill (agriculture); Citibank (finance); Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Renault, Fiat (car makers); Motorola (communications equipment); Halliburton, Phillips Petroleum, Exxon, TotalFinaElf, BP, Royal Dutch/Shell, Esso (oil); Microsoft (software); Monsanto, Aventis (biotechnology); Unilever, Dow, ICI, Hoffmann-La Roche, Siemens (chemicals); and Chevron, Marconi, Lufthansa, Nokia, Carlsberg, Royal Philips Electronics, IBM, Olivetti, Ericsson and Kodak.

The US with Canada and Mexico as NAFTA, Japan and the other Asian tiger economies as ASEAN, and Western Europe as the EU, are the most powerful trading blocks in the world.

In all discussions held so far, trade has nearly always been given priority over the environment. This is because those who benefit most from trade and have most to lose from laws protecting the environment have the greatest financial muscle to influence decisions made by governments. Transnational companies have consistently blocked negotiations on a Biosafety Protocol to regulate genetically modified organisms and climate change negotiations.

The WTO's Ministerial Conference held in Seattle in December 1999 collapsed because of opposition from within developing countries and from protesters from civil society groups outside the conference. Many developing countries complained of bullying and the lack of democracy in the negotiating processes. Many workers, farmers, human rights and environmental activists, religious and indigenous leaders participated in the protest and a series of other protests which followed the Seattle conference.

WTO Ministerial Conferences are held every two years. The fourth was in Doha, Qatar in 2001, the fifth in Cancun, Mexico in 2003 and the sixth in Hong Kong, China in 2005. Whenever WTO conferences have occurred in countries where protesting is legal, the turn out of people protesting has been massive.

On the agenda for this round of negotiations, the so-called 'development round', is the expansion of corporate access to more markets, investment procedures, government procurement and competition policy.

Protests against the WTO, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB), World Economic Forum (WEF) and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) have helped put issues like corporate globalisation on the public agenda. Many protesters are angry at these organisations and the corporations, which form their membership, because they feel their policies directly cause environmental damage and human suffering. They also feel despair because the corporate-controlled media suppresses news of why they are protesting and instead focus on the violence which develops as a result of a minority of the protesters.

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