In Favour of a Balance of World Trade

The 142 member countries of the Organisation Mondiale du Commerce, OMC, have met together at Qatar. Their goal is to find a new international agreement on the rules for international commerce.

The difficult political context has made the debates about the running of the Organisation Mondiale du Commerce livelier than ever. The threat of terrorism has encouraged everyone to reflect on the underlying causes of conflicts, and more especially on the sense of injustice felt by the developing countries towards the western world.

And some French people are in favour of a balance of relationships between all countries. We must not allow a world facture to form said Pascal Lamy, a French economist, European commissioner for commerce. We must adjust the rules of world commerce so that they are more advantageous to the developing countries.

ATTAC – l’Association pour la Taxation des Transactions financieres et l’Aide aux Citoyens – is an organisation which fights for the reform of the rules of commerce in the world. Its spokesman, Roland Calba, explains first of all that it is not about challenging the globalisation of trade itself:

It is completely the opposite, it is completely the opposite. We need a world organisation for commerce, of course, being imposed everywhere, but which operates in a completely different way, with much more transparency and with many more guarantees and (greater) democracy.

On examination, we see that the OMC is, to a large extent, not well known, and functions, to say the least, lacking transparency, it seems to us. The decisions taken by it are in a form which seems to us not to be sufficiently democratic. It is very obvious that the rich countries of the planet, notably those who gather at the G7, now the G8, although we could say G7 and a half, G8, if Russia is included, take the important decisions considering their economic strength and attach little importance (to), or treat in an inadequate way the other countries of the planet, notably those from the south.

So the meeting of the OMC is not to do away with the OMC. Even discussions concerning the FMI, the International Monetary Funds and the World Bank, which are two structures for which the group is very useful, indeed laudable, but whose operations are not at all representative of what should be democratic functioning in these cases.

And what would be the tangible results of such a democratisation? One of the reforms for which ATTAC campaigns is the Tobin tax:

The Tobin tax is the idea of an American economist, who was also a Nobel prize winner and who, twenty years ago, had the idea of a tax which…..of a very, very low rate, but…..would tax the movements of capital, speculative or not. His idea was to regulate the foreign exchange markets with this tax, which is a liberal economist’s idea, I am anxious to underline it, American, from twenty years ago…..it (the tax) had been revisited on occasions in the editorial of the journal Le Monde Diplomatique, Ignacio Ramone, I think that many knew him, in 98, and in one of his editorials he called it To Fight Against the Financial Dictatorship of the Markets. He had the idea of launching and assembling around this idea…..as yet he didn’t know what, but it was gong to very quickly become a well known movement and popular with the public.

So very quickly the association was born, indeed he had suggested the creation of an association which was called ATTAC, which at that time meant Action Taxe Tobin pour l’Aide aux Citoyens. So we realise very well, that in this choice of initials is a wish to make…..to find a punchy word “attack” and the use of Taxe Tobin entered well into the construction of the acronym. But very quickly ATTAC had abandoned the name of Tobin, it’s necessary to emphasise, and has become Action for….. or Association pour la Taxation des Transactions financieres pour l’Aide aux Citoyens.

With the Tobin tax, according to its supporters, you would have two benefits. You would reduce the amount of speculation on currencies, which is often a cause of instability in developing countries. And you would create a fund of about 300 million dollars per year to finance humanitarian causes.

So I would tend towards saying that the Tobin tax, in spite of its low rate, could generate very important amounts (of money) because in the same day there are considerable amounts exchanged from these funds, from bank to bank or from financial establishment to financial establishment and taxation at one rate which is much lower at 1% would generate considerable amounts (of money).

To begin with, we imagine that the tax would only be adopted on a European scale, because of the extreme complexity of the approach:

As it must concern all the countries of the planet, it seem in fact, at first, extremely difficult. It’s the reason why some have thought, on reflection, that it would not apply the first time and to stock, more as an example than as a test, only in countries in the European Union.

That would necessitate very strict controls on those who try to escape the tax.

Other targets of ATTAC are, for example, the tax havens, that’s to say the eradication of places where money circulates without any control and escapes all taxation.

The European Union, under pressure from France, has therefore recently commenced a study on the Tobin tax. The ATTAC militants are moderate in their reaction:

We could think, for sure, on the first reading, that it would be very favourably welcomed, but when we looked at the procrastinations of Lionel Jospin, and his government team to tackle the Tobin problem we had many doubts. We know very well that in recent times, Laurent Fabius showed himself to be very reticent, indeed opposed to …..to the principle of the Tobin tax. He proposed in exchange taxation, for example, of the arms market, that’s very recent, a few weeks ago. And then we learn, on return from their holidays, in an interview that Lionel Jospin granted to TF1, I think, that he is all of a sudden in favour of at least examining the Tobin tax. And, following closely on his heels, at the end of their summer university, of PS, Elizabeth Guigou, declared unreservedly with regard to the Tobin tax. So it is as much about things which, at the same time we…..should make us rejoice but which leave us in some ways a little bit sceptical and with some reservations. Then of course we can recall the approach of the date of the elections, and think that there is there, perhaps, now a way of (bringing)? a sensitive subject to the opinion (polls) ? to win over a part of the electorate.

We have, ourselves, asked the minister of finance, Laurent Fabius, if he was serious in his support of the Tobin tax, or was it an electoral gesture.

Today, no, thank you.

He responded categorically. Yes, but when, history doesn’t say, it’s a sensitive subject, obviously.

If we lose faith in today’s politicians, for the members of ATTAC there remains the solution of creating a political party on an international scale.

That’s not at all, not at all a reality. Some think of it… ATTAC is of course a political movement but it is not a political party, it’s not a political group, that’s the situation today. I don’t know what the future will be.

The militants are in it for the long term.

$Id: 2001_11_act.htm 35 2021-02-12 12:17:35Z alistair $

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