As good as his word

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When the U.S. ambassador sought the support of French President Charles de Gaulle during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the diplomat offered to produce photos of the Soviet missiles based on the Island that were considered a threat by the U.S. That will not be necessary, replied de Gaulle. The word of the U.S. president is enough.

Today, no one believes the U.S. president when he explains why it was necessary to invade Iraq, or how Katrina took everyone by surprise. If you said his word was no good, you would get little argument, anywhere, from anyone.

The problem is that it is not just the U.S. president who cannot be believed; none of the leading figures in world politics takes the truth seriously.

Britain currently holds the presidency of the European Union. When its Prime Minister, Tony Blair, invited the other 24 government heads to an informal summit, he did not have in mind an Aristotelian dialogue among equals, leading to an agreed direction for the EU, which it sadly lacks, and sorely needs.

His gambit was to withhold agreement on the amount of the British contribution to the EU budget, in the hopes the other leaders would capitulate to his liberalization agenda.Blair was counting on creating a crisis situation which only he could resolve to impress the other leaders, or at least the British home audience.

French president Jacques Chirac was not to be outdone. He announced that since the European position on agriculture in world trade talks exceeded the negotiating mandate granted by the EU Council of Ministers, France did not have to agree to what was being negotiated on its behalf.

EU summit statesmanship features Chirac and Blair defending their domestic reputations by attempting to make each other look bad.

The European Commissioner on Trade is a British Blairite named Peter Mandelson, who was twice forced to resign from cabinet for improprieties, e.g.. stretching the truth about a passport in 2001, and concealing a home loan in 1998.

Given this past, he should never have been allowed a post of responsibility, let alone be put in charge of EU agreements on sharing the burden of adjustment to new world rules about trade in agriculture and services.

But it is unfair to single out Mandelson. An observer of world trade talks would be hard pressed to find one truthful statement made by anyone associated with the European or American interests or the negotiators that represent them.

As for Canada, the cabinet could not have been briefed on what was at stake in any aspect of the talks from the Canadian perspective, because our government trade experts have farmed out trade thinking to industrial groups, or Americans, which usually amounts to the same thing.

One searches in vain for anybody from the Western industrialized world who actually takes seriously the objective that was announced in November 2001 when the current Doha round of world trade talks was launched in Qatar under the auspices of the WTO: Third World poverty reduction.

Any program of assisting the poorest nations, through reducing the gap between rich and poor, and raising the incomes of the poorest of the poor, would run counter to the main objective of the U.S. which is to gain access to Third World markets for services.

When new areas are brought under world trade rules, as the U.S. wants to do with expansion of trade in services, the not-very-hidden agenda is to create opportunities for the industry leaders to consolidate their position at the expense of potential rivals.

A great advantage of having more services included under the WTO is that the rules allow for protection of domestic markets. That's right, trade rules are about protection for the rich and powerful.

In the run-up to the December Hong Kong WTO ministerial meeting a lot of contradictory positions are going to be advanced by ministers and officials speaking on behalf of governments. The word of a chief-of-state should be enough to clarify what is going on. Unfortunately it will require more than that in most cases.

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