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DEVELOPMENT: Globalisation Must Work for All or None, Warns Annan

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 28 2001 (IPS) - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan Sunday told a gathering of world economic and political leaders that unrestricted and unregulated globalisation can lead to unmitigated disaster worldwide.

“My friends, the simple fact of the matter is this: if we cannot make globalisation work for all, in the end it will work for none,” he warned the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The Forum, which is held annually in the upscale Swiss town, attracts world leaders both from the North and the South, along with chief executive officers (CEOs) of some of the world’s biggest multi-national corporations.

Annan said the unequal distribution of benefits, and the imbalances in global rule-making, which characterise globalisation today, will inevitably produce a backlash and growing protectionism.

“And that, in turn, threatens to undermine and ultimately unravel the open world economy that has been so painstakingly constructed over the course of the past half-century,” he noted.

Placing the issue of globalisation in its proper context, Annan said: “Try to imagine what globalisation can possibly mean to the half of humanity that has never made or received a telephone call; to the people of sub- Saharan Africa, who have less Internet access than the inhabitants of the borough of Manhattan (in New York city).”

In its latest annual report released Wednesday, the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (ILO) said that nearly 90 percent of all Internet users are in industrialised countries, with the United States and Canada alone accounting for 57 percent of the total.

In contrast, said ILO, Internet users in Africa and the Middle East, together account for only a measly one percent of the global Internet users.

“The creation and loss of jobs, the content and quality of work, the location of work … all are affected by the emerging era of digital globalisation,” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said Wednesday.

“Let’s strip out the hype,” said Somavia, speaking of the digitalised global economy. “What’s left is its effect on people’s lives, wherever they live. We need to promote policies and develop institutions which will let everybody benefit. And it won’t happen on its own.”

The UN Millennium Summit – the largest gathering ever of heads of state in New York last September – attempted to take a fresh look at the core priorities for the United Nations in the new century.

“None was ranked higher than the need to make globalisation work for all the world’s people,” Annan told the Davos meeting.

“You in this hall may take for granted that it can and will. But it is a much tougher sell out there, in a world where half of our fellow human beings struggle to survive on less than two dollars a day; where less than 10 percent of the global health research budget is aimed at the health problems afflicting 90 percent of the world’s population.”

Annan was also implicitly critical of the sense of priorities of rich nations. “How do you explain, especially to our young people, why the global system of rules, at the dawn of the 21st century, is tougher in protecting intellectual property rights than in protecting fundamental human rights,” he asked.

Last year Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned that globalisation – which also calls for liberalisation and open markets – is killing some of the fragile economies of the world’s poorer nations.

Mahathir, who heads a country whose economy was nearly devastated by Western currency speculators in the 1997 financial crisis in Asia, admitted that the unrestricted flow of goods and services across borders may be good for a while.

“But eventually it will destroy markets and result in contraction of world trade. The world would actually become poorer because of free trade,” he said. Developing nations are at a disadvantage of not operating on a level playing field, he added.

At the Millennium Summit, world leaders also resolved to halve world poverty by 2015. But Annan pointed out that governments alone cannot achieve these goals.

The leaders of the Summit, he said, endorsed the idea of strong partnerships with the private sector and with civil society organisations, working towards the shared goals of all humanity.

The Secretary-General once again made a strong case for his Global Compact, introduced at the Davos Forum two years ago, in which business leaders have been invited to join hands with the United Nations in building infrastructure, promoting development and protecting the global environment.

He said the Compact has so far inspired many tangible projects, ranging from investment promotion in the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs) to human rights promotion in and around the workplace.

“But there is much more that we can do to ensure that the opportunities of globalisation are more widely enjoyed and appreciated,” he added.

To participate more effectively in the global economy, he said, developing nations need, above all faster and more generous debt relief; increased official development assistance (ODA), carefully targeted to make poor countries more attractive as investment destinations; and the full opening of rich countries’ markets to poor countries’ products.

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