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March 28, 2000
The Rediff Business Interview/Edward Goldsmith
'Globalisation will destroy India!'
Exactly a fortnight before the world's most famous salesman for globalisation, US President Bill Clinton, came to India, we had another famous visitor. Edward Goldsmith, founding editor of The Ecologist and a cult figure of the environmental movement, warning us against the colonising impact of globalisation. Goldsmith believes that there can be nothing worse for India than letting Clinton get his way. Rajya Sabha member and former journalist-poet-mediaperson Pritish Nandy interviewed him. Excerpts.
I know your views on globalisation. The whole world knows your position on the subject. Particularly those who have read your Case Against the Global Economy. What do you think are the risks inherent in India's going global the way the US wants it to?
Globalisation means, above all, Americanisation and industrialisation. You are already the fourteenth most powerful industrial country in the world but industry only occupies a small proportion of your people, may be 200 million out of a billion. But if you industrialise and start industrialising your rural areas, you will have 700 to 800 million people to dispose of. And I say *dispose of* because when you industrialise the rural areas of any country even in, say, Europe, the small farmers are pushed into the slums. This happens everywhere.
There are hardly any farmers left in England. Certainly not more than 150,000. France had four and a half million peasants after the War. Now there are only about 200,000 left! In India, how do you think farmers with less than two or three acres of land will survive industrialisation? They will not. They will be pushed into the slums, every one of them. And when your farming community goes, so will the small shopkeepers, street vendors, service castes. They will all go because they depend on the farming community. So you will marginalise and make destitute some 600 to 700 million people.
But Europe went through industrialisation as well?
Don't forget that when this happened in Europe, those who were pushed off their land found jobs in industry because industry was developing. This is not the same here. You already have unemployment in your cities.
Can you imagine the impact of making 700 million people destitute? No one has ever done this in the history of the world! That will be the inevitable consequence of globalising your country. It will destroy India.
So what is the option left for India? What is the alternative by your reckoning?
The alternative for me is to do exactly the opposite. Look at all the current trends. The WorldWatch Institute comes out with them every year. Some these trends are beneficial like the development of wind power, alternative energy. But if you look at all the important indicators of what's happening to our society, what's happening to our soil, our land, our forests, what's happening to the pollution of our rivers and seas, what's happening to the cancer rate in view of our exposure to dangerous chemicals, you will find that each and every one of these trends leads to disaster.
And the worst thing about these trends is that there is nothing to stop them continuing. There are no laws to prevent the further destruction of forests. There are no laws saying that you shall not turn your soil into dust, which we do with industrial agriculture. There's no law saying that you cannot go on polluting your rivers. What is still worse, Pritish, under the World Trade Organisation, there are laws saying that you can continue to go on destroying all these things.
What is the WTO trying to do in your opinion?
They are making it illegal to protect the natural world. Environmental controls are classified as "technical barriers to trade". TBT. They have set up any number of laws and all attempts to protect the environment end up infringing one or the other.
If they had their way in Seattle, it would have been illegal to protect your forests, to protect your soil, to protect your rivers, to even protect the unemployed. It would be illegal to protect anything that you value because in, in some way or another, you would be adversely affecting the total level of world trade!
The only thing that matters to them is maximising world trade.
What does maximising world trade mean? Increasing business between nations?
Not at all. It means, in reality, maximising the interests of the very large corporations controlling world trade. They have taken over the running of the world. Huge corporations are becoming bigger and more powerful every day. Our politicians are servers of these huge corporations.
Mr Clinton's priority at Seattle, at the ministerial meetings of the WTO, was to pass the free logging agreement which would have made it illegal to ban deforestation on steep slopes, to ban logging in areas that are important for the preservation of wild life, to ban having any tariffs on the import and export of forest products! They were making ideal conditions for the logging companies... for International Paper, Weyer Hauser, Boyse Cascade and Georgia Pacific.
They already have access to all possible markets. But Mr Clinton wanted to give them even more. He did the same for the biotechnology industry. For Monsanto Corporation in particular. He pushed and pushed their interests everywhere. Mr (Tony) Blair, (prime minister of England), is (doing) exactly the same. He works entirely for the big corporations that are now dominating the world. We have here a new tyranny. The tyranny of these corporations is worse than the tyranny of any governments we have seen before.
But they failed in Seattle?
They failed because they went too far. Seattle saw a reaction against corporate control. It was not just a few environmentalists. You saw the whole of civil society revolting against the WTO. Including steel workers and truckers. There were 35,000 trade unionists there. Also environmentalists and animal liberation people. Church groups, human rights groups, development groups. Basically representatives of the whole of civil society who were saying: We have had enough!
What clinched the deal was when Third World leaders revolted. They had been briefed by this remarkable man called Martin Khor, a Chinese Malay. The WTO is run basically by four countries -- the Quad Group -- America, the European Union, Japan and Canada. They ignored all the others. Third World countries were bullied into accepting conditions that were completely contrary to their national interests. The Quad Group would say: You sign the documents and we promise to import a little more sugar from you. How can any self-respecting nation deal with this kind of pressure tactics?
So finally they revolted. They said: We are not going to sign this document. Go to hell! They booed Ms Barshevfsky, the US Trade Representative Africans, Asians, Pacific Islanders: they all came together for the first time to say enough is enough!
But in a country like India globalisation, is synonymous with freedom. Freeing the people, the economy from government controls. It works against an almighty corrupt state that exploits the people.
What is better? A corrupt and exploitative state voted to power by the people? Or corrupt and ruthless corporates that come to loot the nation in the name of free trade?
Yours is a great country. Do you want it ruled by these huge corporates who are driven by greed and power? Or would you rather be ruled by your own people, whatever their failings may be? That, if you ask me, is the choice before India.
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