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Towards the Third Paradigm

"Policing the Global Economy: Why, How and For Whom?"

By H.E. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, President, Bellerive Foundation

"He wants my job" ran the banner headline on the front page of one of the world's leading economic journals. A striking attempt to bring home to the person in the street just one potentially negative aspect (cheap labor markets in developing countries) of Globalisation  a phenomenon on which the public and media have to date been surprisingly apathetic. After all, Globalisation has been described as the "Nukes of the ‘90s", so far reaching are its repercussions on each and everyone of us and on virtually every aspect of modern society- not least the future stability of our planet.

The debate surrounding Globalisation is all the more invidious in that it resists being reduced to convenient media-friendly soundbites. Lulled by the reassuring rhetoric promising greater peace and prosperity for all, the "zap society" seems disarmingly unmoved by dire warnings from some about the other side of the Globalisation coin- particularly what they feel could be its potentially grave social environment and democratic implications.

The popular media has lacked a "hook" on which to pin an issue as crucial as it is complex and shrouded in impenetrable legalese and technical jargon. But now, however, the full impact of Globalisation seems to have been brought home, at least in the United States. Not, as one may have expected, by some major social upheaval or financial meltdown but rather by a seemingly mundane dispute involving shrimps and turtles!

In this landmark, and now well-documented case, four Asian countries filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act prohibiting  in keeping with the spirit of the CITES Convention  the importation of shrimps from countries using nets that are not fitted with simple, inexpensive devices to avoid the secondary ensnaring of sea turtles.

The WTO Panel ruling that the U.S. legislation did indeed constitute an ‘unfair trade barrier" could send shock waves throughout the multilateral regime and could jeopardise continued public support for a system which is perceived to give undue precedence to commercial interests over environmental and other related concerns. The public seems to be slowly wakening to the consequences of unbridled subservience to the dictates of free trade.

In a finite world, is there a danger that, without proper checks, the stated goal of "sustainable growth" will prove a tragic contradiction in terms? As noted by the writer Edward Abbey, "growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." Is the balance of power not shifting dangerously from the hands of elected representatives towards mega corporations and a new breed of anonymous globocrats? With minimal accountability of public scrutiny, are not decisions being made in the name of progress and liberalisation which could carry negative side effects for human health, quality of life, the environment and our collective conscience?

Whilst the WTO has felt that such thorny philosophical considerations lie beyond its mandate, the future credibility, of the organisation could hinge on its ability to adopt a more pro-active approach to the fundamental debate on trade and environment. As the U.S. "Journal of Commerce" emphasised in the wake of the Shrimp/Turtle ruling, "All sides must find some middle ground before it is too late... Labour and environmental challenges are not about to disappear. And, as the fast-track and NAFTA debate has simply illustrated, stifling debate and failing to tackle key issues head on also risks bringing liberalism to a halt..."

It was precisely in this spirit of dialogue that the Bellevue Foundation and GLOBE International convened from 23rd to 25th March, a major conference on the theme "Policing the Global Economy: Why, How and For Whom?" Surprisingly, given the importance of the stakes, this was widely acknowledged as the first high-level international meeting to bring together both the proponents and opponents of Globalisation.

From the outset, the meeting resisted the temptation of "demonising Globalisation", preferring to seek synthesis between opposing views. In this respect, the outcome of the meeting surpassed all expectations. A common language began to emerge: Sir Leon Brittan, Vice-President of the European Commission notably proposed a "high-level Trade and Environment meeting in Geneva this Autumn", to bolster the work of the WTO Trade and Environment Committee and to "break the log jam which has prevented significant progress being made in the area up to now". Several delegates also endorsed the idea of entrusting a group of "Eminent Persons" with the task of examining the connections existing between eco-sustaining policies and the rules of the WTO.

In his keynote address, Ambassador Ruggiero, the Director-General of the WTO, proposed a new "Global Architecture" to provide a more effective and balanced institutional framework for building and strengthening global consensus throughout the multilateral system. We must seek a "Third Paradigm" so as to reconcile the dominant dogmas, between the trade vision and the social, ethical and environmental concerns of the world's population.

The full proceedings, conclusions and recommendations of the Conference have just been published by Cameron May Ltd. (ISBN 1 874698 22 8) and can be obtained from the Bellerive Foundation, P.O. Box 3006, 1211 Geneva 3. Tel: (022) 346 88 66; e-mail: <bellerive@gestronic.ch>

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