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Hosted by Mark Reid. Do you agree with our contributors?
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Thursday, 30 December, 1999, 11:49 GMT
Does free trade do more harm than good?




If you put the question in very general terms, yes of course free trade is a good thing... (but) free trade doesn't mean that we have to accept laissez-faire. We think we have to find the right way between free trade, free market and regulation.
Mariesol Touraine

Free trade does a lot more good than harm; the current position is not free because trade is not free enough... I would tend to adopt a laissez-faire perspective.
Dr Razeen Sally


Joining Mark Reid are from Paris Mariesol Touraine, a member of parliament with France's governing Socialist Party, and here in London Dr Razeen Sally of the London School of Economics.

Talking Point - Europewide
Each tile in Bill Gates' kitchen costs twice the annual income of the average individual in a developing country. Is that all right? Is this the kind of income differential which cannot be avoided under a global free trade system?

But under which, by and large, the benefits outweigh the imbalances? Or is the fact that the richest two hundred people in the world are wealthier than the poorest fifty countries simply so morally indefensible that free trade itself cannot be defended?

These are the issues being raised by protestors at the World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle this week. Activists are bringing what they say is an unfair deal for developing countries to the attention of the WTO and the world.

Europeans also have views on these matters as the majority of the world's richest countries are in Europe.

What do you think? HAVE YOUR SAY

The Thatcher/Reagan years saw a shift in power to transnational corporations, with democracy being seriously weakened. Corporations now have far too much influence, particularly with the US government, but increasingly in Britain as well.
The WTO is just one of the many avenues through which the corporations are extending their power. It needs fundamental reform to make it accountable and transparent, and we need rules for the global economy which benefit ordinary people and the environment, not the elite who run both the corporations and many governments.
These rules would impose responsibilities on corporations to care for workers, communities and the environment, rather than giving them rights to do whatever they please. Many people unfortunately have the impression of the protestors as violent, which tends to alienate them from the message the overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations were promoting. We very rarely see the story of peaceful protestors protecting property from looters.
Chris Keene, England

Capitalism fails all peoples because it requires losers as well as winners. If you fall into the losers category it doesn't matter if you live in Moscow or Milan, Belgrade or Birmingham, you suffer.
Steven Sant, England

One notes that as of Jan. 1, English merchants will be fined 2000 pounds if they dare offer their wares weighted in pounds or ounces. The rationale is "efficiency," i.e., so you can engage in "free trade" (i.e. managed trade) with the EU. But this is just the kind of totalitarianism we used to see in the USSR; the real object is to force people to give up their traditions on pain of punishment. Mustn't be on the wrong side of history, you know! I would conclude that such "free trade" side-effects show the ideology's levelling, totalitarian nature. So much, by the way, for the ancient rights of Englishmen.
Mike Lofgren, USA

I have to reply to Mr. Morton assertion that "'Free Trade' is simply a way for the very wealthy to justify using their power and wealth to make them selves even wealthier at the expense of the poor." Ok, so the wealthy West 'imposes' free trade. The poor nations are 'forced' to buy from them as their own economies cannot compete. The poor nations get poorer, the rich get richer. Then what?
The rich nations mercilessly ploughed the inefficient poor nations into the ground. Hey Mr. Morton, WAKE UP. I don't know where you studied economics but it really skewed your view of the world, and how free markets have, in the long term, consistently raised the living standards of participating nations. If they are such a bad thing why do even the Chinese now want to play? Maybe it's so that one day a Chinese 'Microsoft' can throw money into the Chinese economy.
Tony Young, Germany

It's all relative, as Einstein said. It is problematic to apply unified trade rules to so many countries. It's "fair" for some, and not "fair" for others. Compare the effect on steel industry and agriculture of Chine and Russia vs. that of the USA, for instance, if they all join WTO.
Andrej, Russia

'Free' trade is a euphemism for trade rules designed specifically for transnational corporations. It tramples on democracy and the right of free people everywhere to self-determination and local control of resources. The WTO is a corrupt institution that operates in secret and does not directly recognise public opinion. They have already overturned environmental, public health and labour laws in the US and around the world. They have no concern for anything but money.
The WTO is bent on environmental destruction and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Fuelling the race toward trade liberalisation is the corporate media, who continuously pepper the public with lies that free trade will save the world. It will not free trade it will destroy democracy around the world and place world control in the hands of giant, secret, unaccountable corporations. Corporate globalisation and free trade must be strongly opposed by everyone who values the future of our plant and civilisation.
Dan Steinberg, USA

Those countries which engage in trade are prosperous, whereas those countries that cannot or will not engage in trade are not. It would therefore seem that trade per se is a good thing and should be liberalised. Regulation is called for to secure to those who do not benefit directly the fulfilment of their needs, to protect scarce resources and the environment, and to prevent the abuse of economic predominance.
Peter, Netherlands

What we need is "fair trade" not "free trade", nothing is free and the word trade is often used to describe actions that would be better described as theft.
Daniel Elmes, UK (living in Canada)

There is no compromise in free trade, it means stability is co-operation between countries. Especially small countries are helpless without organisations like WTO.
Yrjö Judström, Finland

WTO is an attempt to help the most people without falling into socialism, which does not work.
Sam Moore, USA

A company like Microsoft can allocate resources to solving a small problem in its browser software which many nations cannot apply to their infrastructure. In these terms is this a level playing field? If it's free trade, is it fair trade? 'Free Trade' is simply a way for the very wealthy to justify using their power and wealth to make them selves even wealthier at the expense of the poor. There is absolutely no moral validity to the notion of 'free trade'.
Andy Morton, Scotland

The developing countries are ill-prepared to partake in this so called "economic globalism". Most of these potentially rich European countries have successfully crossed the "muddy water" of economic development. For Developing countries to be not only partaker, but also beneficiaries, "social safety net" has to be invented for the Poor. Humanity must prevail over the dark forces of globalisation.
Tajudeen Isiaka, Nigeria

The rally in Seattle marked the beginning of a new era. Protesters rallying against the WTO and its conference on free trade were fired upon by police using tear gas, rubber bullets and red pepper spray. One has to look deeply to find out why a relatively peaceful city could be in a state of civil emergency.
The reason is the new free trade plans. Canada has been part of NAFTA for many years now and we the people little to show for it. Our dollar is trading lower than ever before, taxation is high and the cost of living is on the rise. I am not mistaken, but free trade was created so that such problems would not occur. Now, the WTO wants to impose free trade globally and cut out agricultural, labour and environmental rights. Now ask yourself why Seattle was placed under civil emergency.
Colm O'Higgins, Canada

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