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The tides of globalisation: gobbling hell or beckoning heaven? [The Fiji Times, 25 June 2002]


Would you ever expect socialists and supporters of the coups in Fiji to ever occupy the same bed?   Hardly.  Yet they do, on one issue.

Indeed, strange groups of people- lefties, socialists, greenies, luddites, and right-wing supporters of coups, are united in their passionate opposition to the tide of globalisation that is overtaking the world.   Even though their everyday lives, and those of their followers, totally depend on it.

What is there about globalisation that raises so many hackles?

What is globalisation?

It is a world-wide phenomenon, whereby every country’s markets are being freed up to the rest of the world’s goods, services, investors and their capital.  The world keeps shrinking as communications networks become pervasive.  And the whole world becomes more subject to the regulations of institutions like the IMF, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and, increasingly, the International Courts of Law.

Are we destined for heaven or hell?  There are two opposed views, two caricatures.

The gobbling hell caricature

The “gobbling hell” view sees our resources (land, minerals, forests, marine) being plundered, environments being wrecked, species becoming extinct; our traditional economies, products, foods being destroyed and replaced by dependence on imported economies, products, foods; our local companies being driven out by foreign multinationals.

Our governments supposedly fall at the mercy of donor countries and their international servants (IMF, WB and WTO);  our systems of politics, justice, culture, language, music, etc are over-powered by the international (usually American) varieties; and dangerous “foreign flowers” like “democracy” wreck traditional values.

With this globalisation process, poor developing countries and the  poor everywhere become poorer, while the rich countries and the rich people everywhere, become richer.

The beckoning heaven caricature

But there is also the “beckoning heaven” view of globalisation.  Nation states, once bitterly at war with each other,  are working together in the IMF and WTO, most are merging their economies, societies and even countries, international movement of capital and technology is spreading the benefits of development; goods and services are traded more freely, and consumers face infinitely better range and quality of products, and cheaper prices; efficient producers thrive, while the inefficient are discouraged.

People are moving much more freely than before: Tongan  rugby players, Fijian nurses, Madras computer programmers, Nigerian lawyers, all are welcome in developed countries, even in countries like Australia, whose perverse beacon for the world once was its “White Australia” policy.

And while once only a few developing countries (Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong), were thought to have escaped the underdevelopment trap, many more are now thought to be doing so- like Mauritius, Malaysia, China, and India. And it is thought that most can, if only they would fix up their economic policies, and provide an enabling environment underpinned by good governance.

This positive view admits that income distribution may have worsened throughout the world, and within countries, but the bulk of people, are much better off today, than they were a hundred years ago.  Most people are living longer, with better standards of living.

And there is also a world system of justice developing, where crimes against the people in any country -whether by governments, armies, police forces, or individuals, may be tried in international courts, and penalties enforced.

Which view is correct: no black and white answer

So which view of globalisation is correct- the gobbling hell or the beckoning heaven?  I doubt if there can ever be any “black and white” answer.

One can take most of the positive and negative components of both and give plausible evidence of the opposite also happening.  And be believed by substantial groups of people throughout the world.

The world increasingly sees the sporadic opposition to globalisation from minority groups around the world, mounting the barricades at Seattle or Sydney, wherever the rich G7 groups of countries meet.  And these protests do have legitimate concerns.

But the tide of globalization is all-powerful

But the overall reality remains: the world’s peoples from China to Fiji, are quietly flowing along with the tide of globalisation.

Is this the result of free intelligent rational choice or is it because of apathy based on ignorance?  Even this question cannot be ever answered, as no one really knows why people do what they do.

But one basic fact stands our for all individuals, whether from the towns or the village: our felt needs are such that it is impossible for any of us to shut ourselves off from the world, its products, institutions, and rules.

Decades ago, hippies and socialists may have preached that Third World people can do without the multinationals, IMF and the WTO, and opt for communes or communism.  But most of these alternatives have disappeared.

Recently in Fiji, even qualified professors, supporting the  coups, argued that indigenous Fijian villagers, or the Fiji military could ignore international views and trade embargoes, and survive on bele and cassava.   But the common people have shown no inclination for this spartan existence or this advice.

Critics of globalization can be hypocrites

Indeed, cynics might point out that both sets of  critics of globalisation are hypocritical, given the international lifestyles that they and  their families usually enjoy (see the cartoon).

And to be more mundane, how long could any ordinary citizen in Fiji (or anywhere in the Pacific) do without diesel, petrol, kerosene, buses, cars, nails, out-board engines, clothes, doctors, medicines, schools, and radios?

Theoretically we all can.  But the reality is these consumption needs are now an essential part of our lives, and they logically and inexorably pull us into globalisation, whether we like it or not.

Directly or indirectly, all these vital goods and services must be imported from international sources.  To purchase them, the country must have foreign exchange- nobody out there wants Fiji dollars.  We must therefore produce and export goods and services wanted by those who have foreign exchange.


Small countries have no choice

We are a small country with relatively small numbers of people, unable to exercise any great influence on the world .

There is no level playing field out there, in any arena: whether in manufactured goods, accounting companies, the killing fields, or the sports fields of  rugby and net-ball. We are mice in a forest with giants stomping around, and becoming bigger.

The US has always had its international spheres of influence, and has formalised bits and pieces with NAFTA;  Europe, whose members were killing each other fifty years ago, has its European Union, now also slowly absorbing the former socialist European countries; China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong (and possibly India) are on their way towards forming an Asian bloc. And these giants decide the world’s rules.

Small countries like Fiji may get special treatment under LOME, or under SPARTECA, for the moment. But the world does not owe us a living; and LOME and SPARTECA will one day disappear.

We therefore have no choice but to be part of the international community, and follow the conventions, agreements and treaties on trade investment and intellectual property rights, which our countries have all signed with IMF, WTO and ILO.

  While some power blocs like the United States and European Union can break WTO rules with impunity, we  cannot adopt “nationalist” policies that restrict the free movement of international capital, goods, services, and technology.

And neither will any country be able to restrict their own citizens in these matters. Indeed can you imagine any Pacific Island government restricting our people’s international links with religious  organisations, sports (rugby, soccer, netball), media (radio, tv, internet), or even friends and families?

Can our government stop the international movement of engineers, accountants, nurses and soldiers?

The socialist countries tried, and failed miserably.  Neither can countries like Fiji, Tonga or Samoa.

 So what should be our attitude to globalisation: pick and choose

The tides of globalisation are flowing rapidly.  Our people are in their takias and punts, while the rest of the world are in their ocean liners and aircraft carriers, churning the waves.

Leaders of this country cannot afford to waste their own energy (or their peoples’) by blindly opposing the globalisation process, and trying to force the little takias and punts to go against the tide, or even sideways to the waves.

The challenge for leaders is to work towards building an economy that can survive and thrive in the new globalised world order:  catering to our basic needs while preserving our environment; fostering our small people and entrepreneurs; looking after the poor, our weak and vulnerable; maintaining our good cultural traditions while enjoying the new; and co-operating with other developing countries to reform the international organisations, where necessary.

These are tough challenges, but they must be tackled.

So, how are we doing, by the way?

[This is the first part of two articles based on lectures given to RFMF Officer Training Courses, Vatuwaqa.  The next article focuses on globalisation and the RFMF].


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