Allowing big multinational corporations to enter your country to modernize agriculture is very dangerous because essentially you are losing sovereignty over your food says Vijay Prashad in a conversation about rewriting the framework of trade and investment rules to meet the needs of the world’s people and the planet’s ability to sustain those needs.
August 24, 2013
LYNN FRIES, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome back to The Real News. I’m Lynn Fries in Geneva.
In this report, we continue our look into the battle for a new policy framework of trade and investment rules, rules with an agenda including the needs of world’s people and the planet’s ability to sustain those needs. We’ve been exploring all this in relation to North-South trade negotiations and the operations of multinational corporations. In this third segment, we look deeper into the negotiating position of the developing countries of the South.
The Real News invited historian and author Vijay Prashad to talk to us about all this. Professor Prashad is Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Among the many books he’s authored are The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter. He writes regularly for The Hindu, Frontline and CounterPunch.
Vijay Prashad was recently keynote speaker at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Public Symposium. We met Vijay here in Geneva at the UNCTAD event.
Vijay Prashad, thank you for joining us.
VIJAY PRASHAD, PROF. INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, TRINITY COLLEGE: My pleasure. Thank you so much.
FRIES: Our conversation picks up with a reality check on just what the South is and is not.
PRASHAD: Well, I mean, the South is also not one entity. You know. The South is a political project. It’s the unity of the so-called developing countries, whether it’s in the institutional group of the G77 or it’s in, you know, the G15 or the BRICS countries as so-called self-styled leaders of the South. These are political frameworks. There’s no South, as it were, that exists socially or economically. You know, there are vast divergences between countries of the South and inside these countries.
So for instance, that is why there is a less-developed country group because they claim that their issues are different from the kinds of issues that are important to Brazil or India, etc. You know, if you are from Mali or if you are from Afghanistan you have very different proximate issues than, say, the issues that China wants to bring to the table.
So one thing is, even though there is an attempt to create a combined political project through the Group of 77 through these negotiating groups, nonetheless there are some important divergences.
There are also great divergences inside these countries. So, you know, in India, for instance, or China, the kinds of growth trajectories that they have chosen, you know, they are quite impressive in the growth that they’ve created, but the growth trajectory itself is not a horizontal trajectory. It’s a vertical trajectory. It creates pockets of affluence, and vast amounts of people are not able to, you know, participate, as it were, in the fruits of the growth. So these are vertical trajectories of growth, not horizontal trajectories. And that’s a big problem for these countries, as you see with the protests in Brazil. You know, there is this dissatisfaction within. China has enormous numbers of protests every year, labor struggles, etc. There’s a lot of discontent, because the growth trajectory is more vertical than horizontal.
FRIES: In 2003, the mutual interests of the nations of the South coalesced, this at the WTO ministerial in Cancun.
PRASHAD: One of the big problems is the North is extremely aggressive and well organized in terms of what is permitted. I mean, the one point where the North loosened up a little bit was between 2007 and 2010. You know, in the high point of the financial crisis, when the G20 used to meet regularly–in fact, it met four times in ’09 and 2010–at that point there was some give in the North at least verbally. You know, when the North would say, we need a more inclusive set up, we won’t accept–but there was nothing practical set up, there was nothing institutional that changed. And after 2010, the North returned to its very strict and highly organized defense of its interests.
So that is actually the principle issue on the table. The South, having been crushed in the debt crisis in the 1980s, you know, having been essentially tsunamied during the 1990s in the globalization period, you know, tsunamied into the WTO, they had a very hard time creating any space for a Southern voice in the 1990s.
After the financial crisis struck in 2007-8, some new noises came. You know. And one of the new noises had been prepared earlier. In 2003 in Cancun, India, Brazil, and South Africa started to coordinate activities. They started calling themselves the IBSA group–India, Brazil, and South Africa. And the IBSA group’s essential position was on pharmaceuticals and on agriculture but pharmaceuticals was an important thing. India produces, you know, a huge number of generic and cheap medicines. Brazil and particularly South Africa had a problem buying AIDS drugs from the North. Northern companies were unwilling to sell AIDS drugs at a basement price, you know, essentially as generics but India was producing it. But because of the intellectual property, you know, treaties of the earlier period the ’90s, because of how the WTO had been structured, it was very difficult for India to produce pharmaceutical drugs that were already on patent – you know, which have intellectual been–you know – which were intellectual monopolies. So because of that, these countries said, we will fight some of the rules.
FRIES: Will the nations of the South have the collective will to temper their diverging interests and, with their combined weight and mutual development needs, frame trade and investment rules that bring a more inclusive and sustainable model of growth to the agenda of North-South trade negotiations?
PRASHAD: So they actually did some interesting things after 2003. But the most important thing the IBSA did was it set up the basis for what occurs after the financial crisis, and that’s the creation of the BRICs group–Brazil, Russia, India, China eventually South Africa. So it’s IBSA plus Russia and China is how I see it. It’s not that, you know, Russia and China dragooned these other countries. And IBSA was already meeting annually, and that already created some kind of program, including, you know, making some concepts, such as regionalism, multilateralism–these were the grounding concepts for IBSA, as well, you know, technological innovations, things like that. So that entire IBSA experience comes into the BRICs group. This is a positive development.
On the other hand, just because there’s a new grouping doesn’t mean that the new grouping fully understands how they should move forward. So despite the fact that there is this attempt to create an institution, despite the fact that there’s a pretty good analysis of the situation in the world, despite all that, the general tendency has been to enter the negotiating space, you know, absent a highly unified position which would match the highly unified position of the Global North. And I think that is one problem in the South.
The other problem in the South is a lot of Southern governments assume that the kind of policy proposals which we call neoliberalism are in fact all there is, and the South might need to tinker with some of the proposals, might need to tinker with the kind of global architecture between North and South, but essentially the proposals themselves are not bad. I think that’s limited the South’s ability to engage with the North on some of the substantive issues, such as, for instance, agriculture. You know, this idea that allowing big firms to enter your country to modernize agriculture, which is the general view not only of the North but of many Southern countries, is a very dangerous idea, because essentially what you’re doing is you’re losing sovereignty over your food. You’re losing sovereignty over some of the processing that is required for agriculture–fertilizers, etc.–if you allow multinational firms to come in.
So these are the failures of the South, but these failures are not catastrophic as yet, because new confidence is emerging, and with that, one hopes that there will be a confidence in creating new policies, you know, not mimicking the policies of neoliberalism. There is no indication we are there yet. But I think we may come there.
FRIES:In this segment, we see the South begin to enter the negotiating space with a new confidence in creating policies as its own growth model. In our next segment, we take a look at what those policies might look like. Please join us for the final segment of our series with Vijay Prashad.
Our thanks to Vijay Prashad. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
Originally published at TRNN