Page 6, 28th June 2002

28th June 2002
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Page 6, 28th June 2002 — Preparing for the last throes of Empire
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People: Blair, Bush, John Gummer
Locations: Seville

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Preparing for the last throes of Empire

John Gummer

he recent demonstrations in Seville remind us that, in our lifetime, we shall witness the last throes of imperialism.

Despite the dismantling of Empire, the rich countries have continued a system by which they have called the shots and the poor remain in thrall to theirs. To a great extent this has merely been a reflection of possession. Trade increases wealth but the terms of trade are inevitably laid down by the traders.

Capital creates jobs but the basis for investment is inevitably established by the investor. Even where there is real goodwill and a determination to help, donors will only give if they can be assured that their gift will be properly used. For the best of motives, their generosity is bounded by their determination not to see their money go to waste.

The coming of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) seemed to many to be the apotheosis of all this. The rich countries appeared determined to lay down the global trading rules with little concern for the poor and no willingness to link those rules with any wider interests.

Even already agreed conventions on environment, endangered species, and labour standards seemed threatened by the singleminded and powerful terms that the WTO demanded. No wonder that developing countries felt more dominated than ever. The anti-globalisation movement was given another boost.

Yet, the rich do not easily understand the concern. They know that poverty can only be eliminated by increasing trade and therefore settling sensible terms of trade seems good for all. They know too that their own companies would not venture into less developed markets unless those terms were right.

Like parents who see clearly what is best for their children, the rich feel affronted when the poor begin to rebel. They do not immediately see that the new nations wanted to spread their wings, to make their own decisions, to play their part in a world which was as much theirs as it was anybody else's.

The contrast in views is nowhere seen more clearly than in our own miscalculation over asylum seekers. Whatever is now said, Mr Blair's original plan was to fine developing nations for not containing economic migrants. They would lose the aid which would otherwise have come their way.

Why not, he said? To do otherwise would harm both sides. The rich countries had an immigration problem and the poor would lose the best of their workforce. Thank goodness our colleagues in the European Union knew better. Led by Sweden and France, they ensured that the EU recognised that they could not push others around in this way.

Such attitudes will be seen to be even more crass as the UK is forced to try to help President Bush understand just how interdependent the world is. We have seen how damaging the Farm Bill, the steel blockade, and the unilateral flouting of international agreements has been to Europe. How much more has it hit the poor.

Yet they have a new strength that Bush has not begun to understand. American business needs their markets and the American people will begin to see that they need their co-operation in the fight against the global threats to the world's future.

Terrorism, climate change, the destruction of the ozone layer can only be countered by global cooperation and for that greater global justice becomes a necessity. That's why the old imperialism will finally die as we discover the worth even of the poorest of God's children.




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