Erin George met up with Martin Khor, director of the Third World Network, after the international trade conference during day one of the 2002 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil.


What is the significance of the World Social Forum?

It is a great gathering, because so many activists on different issues have come together and we can share information, learn from each other and maybe prepare our joint campaigns in a better way.

How has September 11 affected the movement?

I think it should have a positive role, in that it should make everybody think, “What are the causes of conflict,” and one of the major causes of conflict is inequality in our world. If our global system is unfair, then it will give rise to poverty, and poverty will give rise to violence. If we can make this world fairer, through a fair global system, then we can prevent future acts of terrorism.

What is the future of the movement for global justice?

I think it will expand and improve as time goes by, because the situation in the world is getting worse. I think the power that is coming out of the social movements is not due to ideology or theory. It is due to the fact that our views are proven correct by the actual events that are happening.

For example, we predicted free capital flow would cause tremendous instability in the developing countries. If in the last ten years there was no instability, then our theory is wrong and nobody will listen to us. But now we have Indonesia, Thailand, Russia, Turkey, and Argentina. So now people are listening.

If you can prove to us that neo-liberalism is the solution to the world’s poverty problem, we would all become neo-liberals. The reason we have not is because the theory is wrong and it is being proven more wrong as time goes by. So I think we will be able to mobilize more people because our theories are more accurate to what is actually happening.

How is the G8 linked to the international trade system?

We have an international system that is more democratic — it’s what we call the United Nations (UN). It used to have more power and authority. But the G8 made a strategic decision to reduce the power of the UN precisely because it is more democratic, and transferred these powers to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO). These are institutions controlled by the G8 countries.

[This is] what we need to [say to] the G8 countries: “You may have power on your side, but you do not have justice on your side.” For justice to be implemented, power must be distributed to the whole world, to the countries, the governments and the civil society of the developing world. They must have an equal say in decision making and therefore we either have to drastically change the decision making process in the Breton Woods institutions and the WTO or transfer those powers back to the UN which is more democratic.

If that does not happen, and the G8, which is fast becoming the G1, continues to monopolize world power for selfish commercial interests, it will not only be against the interest of people in developing countries, but ultimately it will also be against the majority of people in the rich countries. And Canada, which in the past had been one of the countries friendlier and more sympathetic to the developing countries, should take the lead during this G8 summit. I hope it will, but if it does not, then I think it has missed a great opportunity.

What is your message to activists mobilizing against the G8 summit in Canada?

I hope the activists in Canada will understand the plight of people in developing countries, and that they will consider and fight for the rights of people in developing countries. I think the first priority will be to stop the WTO from entering into agreements on investment, competition and government procurement. Unfortunately, the Canadian government is fully supporting the European Union and the United States on this. The Canadian government should stop and think again, and play its old role of being a partner of the developing countries and not the enemy.

The second priority is to change the international financial system, which as we know is not only unfair, but it creates the instability that has ruined the countries of East Asia and Argentina, and has continued to ruin the countries of Africa and most of Latin America.

What changes need to be made in the international trade system?

  • The existing agreements are very bad, especially agriculture, TRIPS and services. We have to change them so that the poor countries and poor people don’t become victims of free trade and protectionism.
  • We must make sure the proposals to [create] new agreements on investment, competition and government procurement do not go through, because that will make the WTO even more disastrous.
  • The decision-making process in the WTO is extremely manipulative and undemocratic. It has to be democratized so that the developing countries can fully participate and so that civil society can also have a say in what is happening.

These are the three changes in the WTO that we need.

What will be the impact of the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas?

I think if it is based on the North American Free Trade Agreement model, it will cause more disaster for the Latin America countries. It will institutionalize the kind of policies that you saw in Argentina. It will open up all the countries to trade and investment and will lead to tremendous instability that eventually will result in Latin American countries not being able to determine their own economic and social policies.

The result will be that capital can flow in and out of a country and cause instability. It will encourage speculation on currency, on commodities, on markets. A country will not be able to control its own economy. What we are now seeing in Argentina will probably happen in the rest of Latin America.

You have called the Doha, Qatar meeting of the WTO outrageous. Why?

Because of the process, as well as the outcome. The developing countries and their ministers protested very hard. They are now more sophisticated. They put many proposals on the table.

But the chairman of the general council and the director general of the WTO did not put the proposals into the draft declaration. When the delegates went to Doha, the same manipulative process continued. As a result, the declaration is a disaster, because it is now forcing the developing countries more and more onto the road of negotiating new agreements in the WTO on investment, competition and procurement. If these new agreements are concluded, it will be a disaster for developing countries.

What we should do in the WTO instead is review the existing agreements, reform them and correct them. But you cannot do this if you are negotiating new agreements that will make the system even worse.

This really is test for globalization.

The proposals of the European Union, the United States and Canada are to push the WTO further along the road of the wrong kind of unjust globalization. So we must prevent these new agreements from taking place. Globalization will really become uncontrollable and will lead to even worse results. If we can stop these new agreements and, on top of that, reform the existing agreements, then we have a chance to reshape globalization to be a force that is less damaging. Otherwise, the world will suffer for another generation of more poverty, more suffering, more instability and possibly more political chaos in the future.