“WORLD TRADE TALKS COLLAPSE OVER TARIFF PROTECTION” is the headline in today’s papers, reporting the failure of the representatives of the world’s national capitalist classes, gathered at the headquarters of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, to agree on a further “liberalisation” of world trade. Apparently, the representatives of Indian and Chinese national capital wanted a clause allowing them to keep out “foreign” imports if they got too much as well as a reduction in the subsidies given to US cotton producers but the US wouldn’t concede. So the so-called Doha round, started in 2001 and aimed at helping the developing capitalist countries, is dead and it’s each capitalist state for itself (and the devil take the hindmost - the poor states of Africa and the West Indies - but the devil was always going to get them anyway).
Some will be happy with this outcome. Not just US cotton producers and fledgling Indian and Chinese capitalists, but the “anti-globalization” movement too who are against “free trade” and, if you examine their “alternative”, for protectionism.
Free trade or protection? That was the irrelevant issue that the working class were invited to take sides over when the Socialist Party was formed over a hundred years ago. As Socialists, we advised the workers not to take sides and to ignore the issue. Neither free trade nor protection would improve their position or solve their problems since these were not caused by trading arrangements but by the capitalist nature of society and production. Workers were just as badly off in free trade countries (such as Britain) as they were in protectionist countries (such as the US and France) and vice versa.
This is still our advice today. Let the capitalist classes of the world and their representatives argue over their trading arrangements. They don’t concern us.
The failure to agree, though not inevitable, was predictable in that the negotiations were always going to involve the representatives of national capitals jockeying for position and advantages for their capitalists. It’s going to be the same with future negotiations over global warming. So the prospects for any meaningful action being agreed here are not that bright either. As the EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, put it when the latest trade talks opened:
“If, after seven years, you cannot complete a trade round, what does that say for your prospects of reaching a deal on climate change?” (Times, 21 July).
What indeed !