Monday 14th August, 2006
Free trade supporters hit back
By Richard Spencer in Hong Kong (Filed: 16/12/2005)
Free trade hit back outside Hong Kong’s World Trade Organisation talks yesterday, mounting a small but cogently argued “anti-anti-globalisation” demonstration.
While Korean farmers, Indonesian fishermen and international Marxists rallied in favour of protecting markets across the world, the Freedom to Trade Coalition had a different vision to promote: globalisation is good.
“Somewhere in Vietnam there is a girl who is working in the fields because her parents cannot afford to send her to school,” said its lead speaker, Daniel Griswold, an American. He blamed the girl’s plight on the failure of South Korea to open its rice markets to her parents, saying: “She is a victim of protective tariffs.”
The free traders are not the same as other demonstrators that have marched on the Convention Centre, where the WTO talks are locked in fruitless debate.
While members of the anti-globalisation movement wear symbolic straw hats, or dress up as chickens, their opponents wear pin-stripe suits or, if young, linen jackets. And they have more PhDs. Most of those at the free trade rally – about a dozen – are members of think-tanks around the world, such as the Cato Institute in New York, where Mr Griswold works.
They made no attempt to break into the Convention Centre – they were on the wrong side of Victoria Harbour for that – and restricted themselves to knocking down a wall of cardboard boxes representing trade tariffs. Among their number was Simon Patkin, an Australian resident of Hong Kong who has set up his own think-tank, Capitalist Solutions, to promote the ideas of Adam Smith. He made his first protest in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district at 5.30am on Sunday.
He said this was because he wanted to “steal the anti-globalisation movement’s thunder” by getting his demonstration in first. It consisted of putting up posters saying “Rationality not rioting” in the almost empty streets.
“Look at what Hong Kong has done with free trade,” he said, pointing to the high-rises that house the engine rooms of global capital behind him. “I just hope the people here look around and ask themselves why Hong Kong is such a successful place.”
Just as the international aid groups, who mostly oppose the WTO, have their own experts from round the world, so did the Freedom to Trade Coalition.
Franklin Cudjoe, a land economist from Ghana, said he was calling on his own government to cut tariffs on services unilaterally.
Only that way, he said, could Ghana’s largely agrarian economy acquire the technical skills and technology to “add value”.
“The government itself supports free trade,” he said. “But it is hard for it to argue the case when it keeps being advised otherwise by so many of these leftist organisations like Oxfam and so on.”
Amy Barry, the international trade spokesperson for Oxfam, said it was not against free trade but against its being imposed against the wishes of individual countries.
“If Ghana wants to liberalise the service industry that’s absolutely fine,” she said. “We are not against free trade but free trade is being forced on people.”
Hannah Crabtree, of Action Aid, said many countries that had developed rapidly, such as South Korea and now China, had protected their industries as they did so.
“They will never have a service industry of their own if it is liberalised,” she said. “The rich world will come in and dominate the market.”