Michael Moore, former Director-General of the World Trade Organization and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, visited the World Bank on July 30th to discuss the linkages between globalization and development from his perspective of his experiences with the WTO. , vice president of the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction and Economic Management network, introduced Mr. Moore by noting that he not only supported a free trading system but also strongly supported a development agenda. Nankani said it was to Moore’s credit that in Doha, in the aftermath of the violent Seattle protests against the WTO, Moore pushed for a trading system that was more accountable to the concerns of the developing world.
Moore started his speech by acknowledging the research and work conducted by the World Bank on development and its beneficial influence. He characterized the Seattle meeting as a dark period, and said he was grateful to the World Bank for its support during this period. The former Director-General said that while globalization is a defining issue in world politics today, it has been a process that was as old as man. Since globalization cannot be stopped, the focus, he suggested, should be on how it is managed and how resources are shared. Credible research, he said, suggests open and educated societies with active civic participation are the ones that are economically strongest. While globalization is not new, he noted, the speed of change has increased substantially, which does lead to some destabilization for the poor. And while some fear change, not all change is negative. Over the last 50 years, advances in medicine and science have increased life expectancy by two decades and reduced infant mortality by two-thirds. Open societies may reap enormous economic benefits, he suggested and provided several examples including Portugal’s improved status since joining the European Union, and the flip flop of economic fortunes of the two Koreas following their civil war.
Marginalization, not globalization, is the threat to the developing world, Moore said, and he viewed the Doha round of trade negotiations as an opportunity to correct some of the past’s injustices. He said agricultural subsidies in OECD countries increase costs for Western consumers pay while stifling markets in the developing world. 90% of global investments don’t go into the developing world, he noted. Singapore receives more investment money than all of Africa, for example. But modest rule changes would help enormously. Countries that have sought to protect these agricultural subsidies have claimed their rights to sovereignty, and voiced concerns over compulsory privatization, changes in public education and public health care systems. Moore called that those concerns false. There are key issues that the trading community must face, and at the top of this list is good governance. Increased transparency in the government procurement process will help expose corruption. At Doha, he noted, ministers confirmed that during times of crises, governments had the right for compulsory licensing or parallel imports of pharmaceutical products, an important development in the fight against AIDS in Africa. Piracy is a multi-billion dollar business and copyright issues play a profound role in the trading debate. Many governments and consumers are not yet willing to take piracy issues seriously, he said, but they will when it results in some tragic event. He also asked rhetorically why investors should pay to find medical cures if they are not also going to own the results. Implementing fair standards will keep trade flowing and will be beneficial to all, a role the WTO was created to facilitate. Moore cited the importance of the capacity building and governance activities of the Bank. Moore acknowledge that as trading opportunities expand, many in the developing world will be negatively impacted. It was the WTO’s intent at Doha to ease this transition.
From his experiences he has learned the quality of government institutions are critical for improving that nation’s economy, a free press plays a vital role, and investment dollars shy away from risk. He cited a couple of examples of how improving government institutions would vastly improve a country’s economy. Still more money has been invested on Africa’s development than on Europe under the Marshall Plan, he noted. The time has come to redefine the uses of development aid so as to build skills. Building a sound customs department, central bank, police department and education system are as important a use of development aid as building a road or bridge, he said. In the future, there will be more aid via public-private partnerships than in traditional development lending. He said he still disagreed with much of what was believed by the WTO’s protesters.
While he remained a firm believer in the multilateral system, Moore said it did need to be more effective and more transparent. He characterized the United Nations as middle aged and in need of reforms, and was the duty of those in responsible international positions to improve the system. Yet there were many hopeful signs, Moore insisted. Polls suggest the most ardent supporters of globalization are citizens of countries with the most human rights problems. Over the last half century, unprecedented improvements have taken place in living standards as millions have risen out of poverty, literacy rates have escalated dramatically, and more live under free and democratic rule than every before. He closed by noting in a visit to Phnom Penh, the capital of war ravaged Cambodia, the few lights at night came from Internet cafes which were crowded by the city’s youths.
During a question and answer session, Moore was asked about the WTO’s commitment to environmental sustainability. Moore responded that there was a difference between the administrative arm of the WTO and the WTO’s member governments. Moore acknowledge many governments in the developing world are concerned about environmental issues, as they are over other issues such as labor, gender and human rights, because they view these issues as potentially protectionist. He thought the way to address concerns about the environmental, and the other issues, is not focus so much on the issue but rather to implement binding dispute mechanisms when parties differ.