Dr M: WTO’s agenda should not only benefit rich nations

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 21 Oct 2003


BANGKOK: Fair and equitable trade in the process of globalisation should be the agenda of the World Trade Organisation rather than one designed for the benefit of the developed countries alone, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday. 

Using the analogy of fair play in sports – citing golf, American football and Thai boxing – the Prime Minister told the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) CEO Summit that globalisation would only be accepted if its stress was on “fair trade” rather than solely on “free trade”. 

“Malaysia and other developing countries think that we should be allowed to protect our own little businesses, banks and industries, at least until the time comes when we are big enough to be able to compete fairly with the giants that come from other countries. 

“So the stress really, should be on fair trade rather than on free trade. Fair trade can be free but free trade can be unfair,” he said at the session.  

Dr Mahathir, who is attending his last Apec summit before stepping down after 22 years in power, said the last WTO meeting in Cancun should not be regarded as a failure just because the developing countries failed to discuss an agenda that was not in their interest. 

“It was not a failure. It was for us, a minor success. We now have to follow it up with a proposal of our own agenda. I hope that the rich nations will accept that the agenda can also come from the poor as it can come from them,” he told some 500 leading businessmen of the world. 

Dr Mahathir said globalisation was first realised by the developed countries at the time when the developing countries were too busy with their own domestic problems to think globally. 

He said when the world came around to talking about globalisation, the agenda was already prepared by the developed countries. 

“And since they prepared the agenda, naturally they thought up matters which were close to their hearts. Matters which would give them maximum results. The first thing that they thought of was, of course, that we should have free trade – access to every corner of the globe.” 

Dr Mahathir said in the past, it had been much easier for the rich nations to deal with such obstructions, adding that all they had to do was conquer the countries so that the trade could be kept to themselves. 

“But today, we can’t do this anymore. We cannot really send gunboats to ensure that we can trade with a nation. So, we have the WTO and its agenda is of the developed countries.” 

“We have been haggling for quite sometime, and the poorer countries find that we have been losing out because we do not have the advantages that the agenda suggests.” 

“At Cancun, for the first time, the developing countries resisted and  

rejected the agenda,” he said, stressing that developing countries were still not ready to face the challenges of globalisation. 

“We are not in a position to compete without some kind of advantage.  

“So what do we do? We give handicaps. People who play golf know very well about handicaps. You can’t play golf without handicaps, can you? Otherwise, it will not be fair play. 

“So it is the same with trading. You have to give handicaps. Some countries are ready to open up their borders, do away with restrictions and regulations because they feel confident that in that environment they can succeed. But in that kind of environment the developing countries cannot succeed.” 

He said big corporations were now merging to become bigger. 

“Our companies cannot afford to lose because they operate only in our country. If they fail, that is the end of them. But the big corporations, banks can afford to lose in Malaysia because they are making money elsewhere. 

“So naturally, we feel a little bit frightened of the so-called free competition or survival of the most efficient. We are ready to be exploited but we must be ‘fairly’ exploited,'' he said, drawing applause. 

Dr Mahathir said the developed countries kept telling the developing ones that they were inefficient. 

“They say they can build cars for us at a lower price and they will pay our people higher wages, which is fine if you think only of getting wages. But there is this thing called national pride which gets in the way, all the time. Sometimes you go to war over national pride.” 

“As for us, we would like to own something of our own. We would like to have a small automotive industry and be able to say: Look, this car was built by us and it runs. That is all. We want to feel that we are something. Not just a lot of workers who provide cheap labour for other people.”  

Related story:Malaysia won’t attend Madrid talks 

Related links:The Asia News NetworkThe Nation, a partner of Asia News Network, in the thick of Apec coverageThe official website of Apec 2003

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