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"Like Mike Tyson against a Four-Year Old": Interview with Jean Ziegler

"The problem is the tyranny of multinatiopnal corporations imjplemented by Zoellick and Lamy. The basic orientation of the WTO is wrong. Total free trade - without normative restrictions by nation-states, unions and parliaments - doesn't bring progress. In an unequal world, this is like sending heavyweight-champion Mike Tyson and a four-year old into the ring and saying `You are equal, the better one wins
"Like Mike Tyson against a Four-Year Old Child"

Globalization critic Jean Ziegler on Alternatives to the WTO and the Cancun Summit

[This interview originally published in the Austrian Der Standard September 19, 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,
 http://www//derstandard.at/Text/?id-14238098. Jean Ziegler, born in 1934 in Swiss Thun, teaches sociology at the University of Geneva. He is also a guest professor at the Sorbonne in Paris and UN special envoy for the right to food. Up to 1999, Ziegler was a social democrat delegate in the Swiss legislature. His critical books ("The Swiss Wash Whiter") triggered scandals at home but made him internationally well-known.]

Standard: The summit of the World Trade Organization WTO in Cancun failed. Does that fill you with satisfaction or with anger?

Ziegler: It was a total failure on account of the agricultural dossier, not on account of the new themes, the Singapore themes. Therefore the failure is very good.

Standard: Why is that?

Ziegler: The situation is hypocritical. OECD countries spend a billion dollars a day for production- and export-subsidies of agriculture. At the same time their markets are closed. 90 percent of the 122 developing countries are agricultural countries. Market access is realized with cotton, peanuts, coffee and cocoa. However their own agriculture goes to the dogs because the promoted dumping commodities flood the local markets. I was in Dakar. You could buy French tomatoes 40 percent cheaper than indigenous tomatoes produced with starvation wages.

Standard: The main problem in Cancun was obviously cotton.

Ziegler: Right. George Bush subsidizes cotton in the US. Multinational corporations support these subsidies. Despite extremely low costs, the eight African producer countries - Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, Shad and so on - cannot sell their mountains of cotton any more. Do you know about the white mountains in the harbors of Cotonov (Benin)? No tax revenue exists any more, nothing at all.

Standard: Where did Cancun fail concretely?

Ziegler: The heads of state of the cotton states came to Geneva before the WTO conference and said to the general director: Either subsidize our cotton or prevent Americans from flooding the world market. Our people die of starvation. Then very concrete assurances and promises were made. I learned this from the Mali ambassador. In Cancun, Zoellick (Robert, chief US negotiator) said: Liberalization is central, not compensation. This ended the discussion. Then the Africans noticed who was lying.

Standard: Now the US will yield to bilateral solutions. Will this be better for developing countries?

Ziegler: Then the extortion will be total. This could lead to military occupations. Therefore third world countries seek new negotiations at the end of 2003. Their agenda should be accepted: First abolish the agricultural subsidies, and then we will discuss investment protection.

Standard: How do you judge the formation of the G21-group?

Ziegler: The reemergence of a collective third world front is very important. The multinational NGOs were integrated in the G21 for the first time in Cancun. It was not like 1999 in Seattle - here the WTO and on the streets the manifestation of civil society. The specialists of alternative think tanks were in the corridors and no longer had to be at the barricades.

Standard: However homogeneity hardly prevails within the G21.

Ziegler: Alliances and votes count in the international institutions. Amorim (Celso, Brazilian foreign minister) said: We also have starving people in our country. Our task is to keep solidarity with the poorest. I believe him and the Malaysian prime minister. Diplomatic negotiation is unavoidable.

Standard: You regularly urge abolishing the WTO.

Ziegler: The problem is the tyranny of multinational corporations implemented by Zoellick and Lamy (Pascal, EU - European Union trade commissioner). The basic orientation of the WTO is wrong. Total free trade - without normative restrictions by nation-states, unions and parliaments - doesn't bring progress. In an unequal world, this is like sending heavyweight-champion Mike Tyson and a four-year old child into the ring and saying: `You are equal; may the better one win'.

Standard: But the gross world product has doubled in ten years.

Ziegler: The mountains of gold of the transcontinental oligarchies increase. However 100,000 persons die of starvation every day according to UN statistics.

Standard: You are often reproached for only criticizing and not offering solutions.

Ziegler: Historically every revolutionary process began this way: we know what we don't want. Still the horizon is human rights, the values of the Enlightenment.

Standard: What could be the alternative to the WTO?

Ziegler: A paradigm chance is necessary. The WTO understands itself technically. World trade needs the WTO. Protectionism is bad. Minimal conditions - environment, social necessities - must be created with the pressure of the WTO. One must ask how goods are produced. Does a slave or a blind child produce the goods? Trade is not value-neutral or free of any value judgments.

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