Trade Is War



Foreword by JEAN ZIEGLER, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and author of The Empire of Shame


“This impressive study focuses on Africa, which has suffered hideous crimes. Yash Tandon’s case is a powerful one, and can be extended: the global class war that is institutionalized in the misnamed ‘free trade agreements’ is also a war against the traditional victims of class war at home. The resistance, in Africa and elsewhere, which Tandon describes here, is a source of hope for the future.” —Noam Chomsky

“A necessary and timely contribution which goes to the roots of the deep crises we face as humanity.” —Vandana Shiva

“Understand that ‘trade is war’ as Yash Tandon beautifully explains in this important book.”
—Samir Amin

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About the Book

Globalization has reduced many aspects of modern life to little more than commodities controlled by multinational corporations. Everything, from land and water to health and human rights, is today intimately linked to the issue of free trade. Conventional wisdom presents this development as benign, the sole path to progress.

Yash Tandon, drawing on decades of on-the-ground experience as a high level negotiator in bodies such as the World Trade Organization, here challenges this prevailing orthodoxy. He insists that, for the vast majority of people, and especially those in the poorer regions of the world, free trade not only hinders development—it visits relentless waves of violence and impoverishment on their lives.

This revised and updated edition of Trade Is War shows how the WTO and the “Economic Partnership Agreements” are camouflaged by rhetoric that hides their primary function as the servants of global business. Their actions are inflaming a crisis that extends beyond the realm of the economic, creating hot wars for markets and resources, fought between proxies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and now even in Europe.

In these pages Tandon suggests an alternative vision to this devastation, one based on self-sustaining, non-violent communities engaging in trade based on the real value of goods and services and the introduction of alternative currencies.

240 pages, with index • Paperback ISBN 978-1-682191-49-1 • E-book 978-1-682191-50-7

About the Author

Yash Tandon is the author of numerous books and is an Honorary Professor at Warwick and London Middlesex Universities in the UK. He is the Founder-Chairman of SEATINI (Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute), and former Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank of the Global South.

Read an Excerpt

The WTO is essentially a conspiratorial organisation. Its decisions are made by a few select members (the big powers plus a small number of countries from the South selected by the North) in so-called ‘green rooms.’ These decisions are then binding even on those not present. Africa was not present in these ‘green rooms’ at Singapore, and yet Africa was obliged to accept the so-called ‘Singapore Issues’ that were agreed upon behind their backs as part of the WTO agenda. The WTO is definitely not a democratic organisation. Since 1996, Africa has been fighting to reverse the damage done at Singapore.

In 1997, following the experience of the WTO Ministerial meeting in Singapore, I did some research and I discovered to my dismay that practically all African countries had signed the Uruguay Agreements that set up the WTO without even reading the text. That shocked me. Why would they sign an agreement that harmed Africa’s interests without even reading it? Why had African governments not subjected the Agreement to rigorous analysis? I also found that none of them had presented the treaty to their national parliaments for democratic scrutiny. Why not? Was it an oversight? Or was this behaviour a product of history or psychology?

I am not a psychoanalyst. But Africa’s experience with the WTO reminds me of the brilliant analysis by the Martiniquean-Algerian-French psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon. In his book Black Skin, White Masks (1952), he applied psychoanalytic theory to explain the feelings of ‘dependency’ and ‘inadequacy’ that black people experience in a white world. Even after independence, it is difficult for black ‘subjects’ to eliminate the inferiority complex that is a necessary product of the colonising process. Fanon said that this was particularly the case with educated black people who want to be accepted by their white mentors. ‘The Negro enslaved by his inferiority, the white man enslaved by his superiority alike behaves in accordance with a neurotic orientation.’

It sounds astonishing that, in spite of decades of struggle for independence, most African leaders have an incredulous faith in their European mentors. This reveals an implicit assumption that now that the anticolonial wars are over, Europeans may be trusted to look after African interests. Of course, this is not the only reason why they would sign agreements such as the one that created the WTO. There is the lure of ‘development aid’ and the threat of sanctions. There is also the all-pervasive ideology, especially after the emergence of the neoliberal economic doctrine, of free trade and state deregulation. This ideology argues that, left to the market, the resources of the world are most efficiently and productively allocated on the basis of comparative or competitive advantages. But I came to the conclusion that the reason Africa trusts Europe is, above all, the naive belief that the erstwhile colonial masters have seen the error of their past sins and can now be trusted to deal with Africa on trade matters with fairness and justice. This is what puzzled me most.

So after the WTO experience in Singapore, I set up an organization called the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) in 1997. It has a simple and straightforward objective: to help build Africa’s capacity to negotiate trade agreements; to help develop the self-confidence of African trade negotiators so they can to stand up to their erstwhile colonial masters. SEATINI has operated now for nearly two decades, and I am still its chairman. It has offices in Kampala, Nairobi, Harare, and (for a short period) Johannesburg. It is run largely by the ‘labour of love’ of some dedicated local ‘trade experts’ from Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, and ‘solidarity support’ from some European non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

In the 1990s and 2000s, the WTO used to organise ‘training’ workshops for African (and other ‘third world’) trade negotiators to learn about the WTO ‘rules of the game.’ In 2004, I was invited by the WTO to lecture at one of its training sessions in Stockholm. In my presentation I made a rigorous critique of the WTO with facts and arguments. The participants were quite shocked to get a perspective on the WTO different from what they had been getting from the WTO officials and other professors. For three days, many of them would gather around me in the evenings for further discussions. By the time I left Stockholm, I had ‘converted’ several of the participants; they at least acknowledged that there was another viewpoint on the WTO. They began to differentiate the reality on the ground (which is what I presented) from the free-market ideology (which is what the WTO officials presented).

In January 2005 I was appointed Executive Director of the South Centre. It is an intergovernmental research and policy-oriented think tank created in 1995 by the leaders of the countries of the South. It is based in Geneva, and Julius Nyerere was its first chairman. Both the South Centre and SEATINI focus on issues related to trade negotiations, including multilateral negotiations (as in the WTO) and regional or bilateral negotiations (as in the case of, for example, Africa’s negotiations with Europe). They also work on several other ‘trade-related’ issues, such as intellectual property, health, food security, commodities, control over natural resources, climate change, tax justice, and a whole variety of other issues. The ‘mighty and powerful’ countries have been able to bring within the ambit of ‘trade’ all kinds of issues simply by adding the phrase ‘trade-related.’ This is how the four Singapore issues of investment, competition, government procurement, and trade facilitation got (I would add, illegitimately) onto the WTO agenda.

Then, at the Fifth WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003, the developing countries, led by Brazil and India, took a stand against the West`s attempt to push through a prepared text on agriculture that the West had agreed upon among themselves. Hundreds of NGO activists from the North, as well as from the South, gathered in solidarity with the countries of the South to protest against the inequities of the WTO system. I was there as an unofficial member of the Kenya delegation at the request of the Kenyan Minister of Trade and Industry, Mukhisa Kituyi (presently the Director General of the UNCTAD). He was also the only African allowed into the ‘green room’ negotiations. He was new to the game, but he played his cards well and managed to get three of the four ‘Singapore Issues’ out of the WTO agenda. The only issue that remained was that of ‘trade facilitation.’ Despite the utmost pressure from the Western countries and the WTO bureaucracy—led by the then Director General, Pascal Lamy—the conference collapsed. The NGO activists danced in the conference venue and in the streets of Cancun, celebrating the triumph by the developing countries against being pushed around by the big powers. The ‘mighty and powerful’ and Pascal Lamy sulked after their humiliating defeat. This is not meant to be a personal offence to Lamy. In my view, he was a brilliant organizer and ideologist for the WTO.

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