No doubt there will be much to-do as Canada and the U.S. sanctimoniously trumpet more funding for Africa during the G8 confab in Kananaskis next week. This despite the fact that our prime minister's cash gift will probably not even make up for the dramatic foreign aid cuts this very same PM carried out a decade ago when he took over from the Tories. However, as non-governmental orgs cock a skeptical eye at Chretien and company, they'll probably also be looking warily at each other. The anti-globalization movement, normally hostile to the corporate-dominated world economy, is being pulled apart over a proposal aimed at integrating poor countries more tightly into that very world market system.
The split was triggered by a recent report from Oxfam -- Rigged Rules And Double Standards -- that argued for reform of international trade laws so poor countries can have freer access to First World markets. Already, a senior Oxfam staffer in the U.S. has resigned.
As the report points out, a 5 per cent increase in poor countries' exports would net them $350 billion collectively, seven times as much as they receive in aid. Memo to Jean Chretien: the $70 billion Africa would gain through a 1 per cent increase in its share of world exports is five times the amount it would net through aid and debt relief.
The report offers both inspirational stories of trade improving the lives of the poor and examples of how their efforts are stymied. In one case, Vietnam made the switch from being an importer of rice to becoming a major exporter. Then there's Bangladesh, one of the world's larger producers of textiles, where 300,000 mostly young women have lost their jobs following the introduction of U.S. duties.
But many activists believe the document is tearing apart relationships within the anti-globalization contingent, who are referred to in the report as "globophobes," a put-down that usually comes from the corporate elite. "To dismiss colleagues in the Third World whose lives are being destroyed (by global trade) is appalling," says Anuradaha Mittal of the U.S. org Food First.
It didn't help that Mike Moore, director-general of the World Trade Organization, "welcomed" the report, said he agreed with a lot of it, invited Oxfam to a WTO symposium and claimed that the best way to institute the group's recommendations would be a new round of trade negotiations -- exactly what all those protestors want to prevent.
The Canadian government also gives the Oxfam report a thumbs-up. "The idea that world trade is a solution to poverty is something we agree with, and we have taken initiatives on it," says Oussamah Temim of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. He points out that Canada is planning to eliminate import duties and quotas for 48 of the world's least developed countries.
Oxfam has endorsed the Ottawa plan but warns it must be accompanied by moves to improve labour standards in poor countries and protect displaced workers in Canada. As well, the import reforms shouldn't have strings attached, such as the requirement that eligible textiles be made with materials dyed in the importing country, an old U.S. trick.
Though Oxfam and the Canadian government see eye to eye on this matter, that's not the case with the senior Oxfam policy adviser in the U.S. office. Last month, Severina Rivera resigned, saying: "I cannot support Oxfam's trade campaign priority that calls for more market access and trade for poor countries as the solution to poverty."
Contacted by NOW, Rivera says she has nothing further to say publicly. "I don't want this whole thing to become a personal matter," she says. "There have been enough neutral critics out there that the issue speaks for itself."
Indeed, anti-globalization activists from around the world have weighed in. In her critique of the Oxfam report, for example, Vandana Shiva, a champion of bioregionally attuned production, writes from India that "market access is supposed to be the magic potion for pulling the poorest out of poverty. However, market access is just another word for export orientation and export domination."
Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, got wind of the impending report while she was at the annual lefty gathering in Porto Allegre, Brazil, early in the year. When she got back to Ottawa, she called Oxfam. "I said, "Look, I think this is going to be more controversial than maybe you think.'" Barlow had a particular concern because Oxfam is a prominent member of the Our World Is Not for Sale anti-corporate network. "Oxfam has been more involved in the trade issue than it has been in the past. I don't want a rift in the family."
Sources tell NOW that Oxfam Belgium feared that the recommendations on market access inadvertently set up a conflict between small farmers of North and South, a particularly difficult issue in Europe, where the survival of indigenous farming is seen as basic to European culture itself. Oxfam Belgium has refused to sign on to the section on market access.
Oxfam Canada, in contrast, was an enthusiastic supporter of the entire report. David Gallagher in the Ottawa office says much of the attack on the report comes from people who haven't read it. "It's a bit like Salman Rushdie and the Satanic Verses," he analogizes -- more critics than readers.
Everyone in the anti-globalization movement doesn't have to be doing the same thing, he says. "Look, if you want to be out in the streets saying "Stop globalization,' that's OK. But if I want to put on a suit and go and see (the finance minister) and say this is a crock of shit, that's also important."
Much of the fallout over the Oxfam report ended up at the London office, specifically on the desk of economist Kevin Watkins, who wrote most of the document. He maintains that the report has been more caricatured than critiqued. The most vehement criticism has come from "food sovereigntists" who argue that export-led agriculture warps growing priorities, raises prices in the domestic market and threatens the poorest people, who can no longer afford staples.
In answer, Watkins insists that Oxfam better reflects the priorities of Southern producers than the organization's detractors. "If you tell coffee growers in Uganda that they should start growing cassava for the local market and that by exporting they're depriving their neighbour of food, they would laugh at you."
On the other hand, he says, there are examples of destructive export agriculture, for example in Brazil, where industrialized soya production has led to small landholders being pushed off their farms. The debate has to be country-specific, Watkins says.
No doubt other chapters will be written in this saga. "Nobody has the right to say they speak on behalf of the movement," Watkins says. "There's a range of different strategies. That's what gives the movement its strength and creativity."