Global trade teach-in sparks heated debate 

Amid fierce debates about unfettered trade, environmental degradation, and worker rights, Missoulians were treated last week to an approximation of the turmoil surrounding the World Trade Organization ministerial meetings, when the Montana World Affairs Council and the Independent sponsored a community teach-in titled “Globalization: Friend or Foe?” at the University of Montana.

Darrell Holzer, state political director for the Montana AFL-CIO, led the evening off with a scathing indictment of the effects of global free trade on the rights of workers, saying, “The more I investigate into the globalization issue, the more disturbed I become … about the future of my children, and their future of work opportunity in this country.”

Holzer said that agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement have resulted in “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs in this country.” He blamed this country’s widening trade imbalance on factors such as predatory dumping and free trade agendas being pushed by multinational corporations.

Dave McClure, president of the Montana Farm Bureau, advocated a greatly increased role of the United States in global trade agreements. “Today, there are more than 130 preferential trade agreements throughout the world, and the United States is a party to only two of them,” he said. McClure issued a strong plea for Congress to authorize the president’s “fast-track” legislative powers he currently seeks.

“The WTO negotiations are all about our ability to maintain leadership of the global trade agenda, advance U.S. trade interests, and write the rules of the game for the 21st century. We should increase opportunities for our producers and lead the world by example,” he said.

Bryony Schwan, executive director of the Missoula-based Women’s Voices for the Earth, sounded the alarm on the dangers of allowing corporations the same rights as individuals, and the social and environmental costs of allowing global trade policies to continue on their current course. Citing research from Oregon State University Professor Barbara Dudley, Schwan said that “Under proposed WTO rules, there can be no discrimination between public or private, domestic or foreign providers of [public] services. This is a backhanded way to privatize currently held public services, and needs to be discussed and debated in a democratic and open forum, not behind closed doors with no public debate permitted.”

Joanna Shelton, formerly of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, refuted many of her fellow panelists’ anti-globalization arguments and said that globalization is not only necessary but inevitable, and global trade agreements can help environmental and worker rights more than they will harm them.

“Globalization is nothing more than the process of trading, communicating, and interacting with people over a wider and wider area with greater and greater ease,” she said.

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