Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 - 31 August 2005
Issue No. 757
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

To manage globalisation

By Taha Abdel-Alim Taha

When examining globalisation, it is useful to differentiate between the phenomenon of globalisation, which is objective and seemingly irreversible, and the management of the phenomenon, which is subjective and open to debate. The latter is what matters. More than anytime before, we need to monitor what nations do, individually and collectively, in the course of globalisation.

Those who manage economic globalisation are governments, international economic institutions, multinational corporations, the business community, trade unions, non-governmental organisations, the international network of civil society, and the media. So far, most decisions have been made by the governments and companies of the major economic powers, the US being the most influential. The decision-making process has been favourable to the interests of the powerful, with concepts such as democracy, transparency, and accountability tossed to the wind. Most developing countries, Egypt included, have little or virtually no say in the international management of globalisation. These countries are usually told what to do, through agreements such as the Euro- Mediterranean partnership.

The member states of the World Trade Organisation, for example, have to follow certain rules and regulations in running their own affairs. The World Bank, the IMF, and multinational corporations decide how business is to be conducted on a global scale. It is against this backdrop that Egypt took substantial steps towards the liberalisation of its trade, investment, and currency policies.

For developing nations, the liberalisation has been lopsided. Labour and technology are not completely free to move, and since the US started its war on terror, more restrictions have been imposed on Arab and Muslim countries. When exporting to industrial countries, developing countries such as Egypt run a familiar gauntlet of hindrances, with labour regulations, technical specifications, environmental considerations, and dumping allegations all conspiring to limit their access to foreign markets.

The biased management of globalisation is too obvious to contest. In market accessibility, technological transfer, and labour movement, some countries have a clear advantage. In meetings held by the WTO, demands made by developing countries often go unheeded, and the generous promises of aid made by the rich to the poor at the beginning of the millennia have yet to materialise.

The ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation has released A fair Globalisation: Creating Opportunities for All, a report discussing the repercussions of globalisation. The conclusions reached by the report match the views of experts in Egypt and the region. The report suggests that globalisation will only offer heightened opportunities for exploitation and control unless something is done to promote common human goals and preserve the cultural identity of various groups and nations. Globalisation offers a promise of a better life for humanity and yet many of the economic and social problems across the world can be traced to the very processes of globalisation, especially the unfairness of trade and finance.

World markets have grown at a pace that was too fast to allow social and economic institutions to adapt. As things stand, much effort is needed to introduce fairness into the system. So far, globalisation has given precedence to economic and financial considerations over social ones. Most developing countries have little say in international negotiations over how world financial and economic institutions work. This is why it is important to differentiate between globalisation and its management. Globalisation may offer tremendous opportunities for humanity as a whole, but its management is in need of revision. A more democratic approach is needed if Egypt and other developing nations are to share in the benefits of globalisation.

* The writer is an expert at Al-Ahram Strategic and Political Centre

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