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The BBC's Andrew Walker
"Trying to wrestle with the problems of globalisation"
 real 28k

Saturday, 12 February, 2000, 18:56 GMT
Asian leaders condemn multinationals

Protesters in Bangkok Protesters make their feelings known in Bangkok

Asian leaders meeting at a UN trade conference have expressed concern about the growth and increasing power of huge multinational corporations.

A number of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) said the trend towards big corporations merging made it hard for smaller companies in developing countries to compete.

The conference, in the Thai capital Bangkok, opened against a background of noisy but peaceful protests.

Many of these corporations are financially more powerful than medium-sized countries
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) was the first major global trade summit since violence erupted at economic talks in Seattle last year.

Fears of similar violence and disruption in Bangkok did not materialise, but hundreds of demonstrators did mass in central Bangkok to protest on international and local issues.

Corporations bigger than countries

In a speech to the conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that international organisations such as the UN and World Bank had not been able to cope with the challenges facing the developing world.

Dr Mahathir said he was "worried and frightened" by the speed at which companies were merging to seek domination of some global industries.

What we urgently need is a new framework to sustain a global consensus on open markets and to moderate globalisation's worst excesses
Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong
"Now many of these corporations are financially more powerful than medium-sized countries. While we welcome their collaboration with our local companies, we fear that if they are allowed into our countries unconditionally they may swallow up all our businesses," the Malaysian prime minister said.

Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said globalisation was unstoppable whatever an individual country's feelings about the process.

"It is in our interest to maximise the opportunities and minimise the risks and costs of globalisation.

"What we urgently need is a new framework - a new global order - to sustain a global consensus on open markets and to moderate its worst excesses," Mr Goh said.

Leaders of developing countries are hoping that this meeting will produce pledges from the richer countries to open their markets to goods from the developing world.

'A global new deal'

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had earlier called for a "Global New Deal" in which the rich nations extended a helping hand to poor countries.

Mr Annan said globalisation was not the enemy of development, but he said that those who do best from it had an obligation to look after the casualties.

"How and why is it that such large parts of the world are excluded from benefits of globalisation?

"In part, it is indeed because development is held back by the barriers which industrialised countries still place in the way of exports from developing countries," Mr Annan said.

Criticism of powerful nations

He heavily criticised the world's most powerful nations for causing the failure of World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle last year.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan Kofi Annan delivers his opening address
Mr Annan described as a "popular myth" the belief that the talks were derailed by the violent protests which paralysed the summit's program.

WTO President Mike Moore said in Bangkok that he was working on a package of proposals to offer poorer economies better access to lucrative richer markets.

"We have agreed to try and negotiate free market access for least developed countries," Mr Moore said.

The conference will end in a week's time with a declaration on how to enable the poor countries to get the benefits of the increasingly integrated world economy.

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See also:
12 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Annan calls for global deal
11 Feb 00 |  Business
World trade focus shifts to UN
25 Dec 99 |  Business
Body blow for free trade

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