Free Trade TM
1st June, 2003
Free trade. So benign sounding a phrase. A concept whose principles no reasonable person would challenge. Trouble is, free trade as we know it – free trade as it is pushed by those who will mass at Cancun, Mexico, in September – is far from free. Think about it. If it truly was free, would they put sanctions on those who don’t want to participate and use police to violently put down protests by those who oppose it? Free trade is really just a euphemism, like ‘peacekeeping’ or ‘forest management’, that hides a far uglier, more brutal reality. Free trade is a brand – Free Trade™, which sells a repackaged product no one in their right minds would buy if they knew what it really was.
So what is that product? The Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausewitz once wrote that war is the continuation of politics by other means. Similarly, free trade is the continuation of colonialism by other means. My dictionary defines colonialism as ‘(a) control by one power over a dependent area or people; (b) a policy advocating or based on such control’.
Whether we like it or not, the fact remains that the rich of the world still control the former colonies (although few are so impolite as to call them that anymore), because many of the colonial structures the rich nations built up were simply left in place after ‘independence’. Corporate access to land, resources and markets, debt peonage, tax structures favourable to the powerful, commodity pricing aimed at driving small producers off their land, the massive export of resources – these are all similar to procedures that existed hundreds of years ago. Only the names have changed. And in some countries, poverty is much worse than it was under direct colonial rule.
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