is a great pleasure to be here. A big debate is raging about how to
promote, some say preserve, democracy in a globalizing world. Whereas
democracy remains rooted in local communities and nation states, a
growing number of issues require global attention and action.
Governments know they cannot effectively serve their people and their
peoples' interests without the cooperation of others. They cannot
ensure clean air and a clean environment, run an airline, organize a
tax system, attack organized crime, solve the plagues of our age;
aids, cancer, poverty, without the cooperation of other governments
and international institutions.
much of the last century and the century before was ruled by coercion.
But I believe we are now in a better world of persuasion. To be sure,
it remains an imperfect world. But it is a vast improvement on earlier
times. And it is due to wise men and women of vision who established
international institutions and negotiated important treaties like the
UN Charter, Law of the Sea, the Antarctic Agreement; all the better to
advance civilised behaviour. Let me add that far from diminishing the
authority of the nation state, these institutions and mechanisms
advance and guarantee the sovereignty of nations — by stopping the
unilateral aggressive behaviour of states, especially the more
powerful ones. Perhaps I see things a little differently — as a
non-European and a citizen of a small nation, New Zealand. But for me,
international institutions do not threaten the authority of the state.
They guarantee that authority. Let me add also that small players need
the law and systems of rules the most.
current WTO drive to better relate to Parliamentarians reflects my
personal experience and beliefs. Elected public servants are the
measurable, accountable, dismissable representatives of civil society.
There are a few, mostly NGOs from wealthy societies, academics and
some international bureaucrats who challenge this proposition. They
claim their lobby-group, their pressure group, has more members than
the ruling party. Sometimes this is true. (But that tells us something
else). Some have claimed as well that we live in a post-industrial,
post-representative age. One international bureaucrat, at a meeting I
attended recently, said they are now the true representatives of the
people, through their contacts with civil society (he cited low voter
turn-out and the low opinion so many people have of politicians). I
said that is very unhealthy and dangerous. But this is a profound
debate that must be had. The UN Charter says “We the peoples” not “We
the Governments”. In some countries, which lack the democratic
impulse and democratic institutions, it is true that some Governments
have been repressive and a few, fewer and fewer over the past 20
years, have been the enemies of their true owners, the people. And it
is also true that heroic individuals and their supporters, NGOs, have
been punished for their belief in freedom and choice. But when people
are free, they choose to set up political parties and seek power
through elections. This is the true essence of civil society.
systems and political parties function best when they are open and
transparent and when they encourage the widest participation in policy
creation, whether it be on WTO or domestic priorities. Most mature
democracies and successful Governments and political parties operate
in this manner.
Governments have gradually contracted out certain limited functions to
international institutions, treaties and agreements, there has not
been a corresponding evolution and focus of political oversight. We
need a comprehensive and cohesive response to international governance
because many people feel alienated from power and ownership. Their
feelings of anxiety have been made more stark by the process of
globalization. Globalization is not new. It is not a policy. It is a
process that has been going on since the beginning of time. Some
historians claim trade is now at about the same level as it was at the
turn of the last century. Certainly there was a greater movement of
people across borders 100 years ago than today.
is different? Overall, globalization has accelerated. And the
information and technological explosion has ensured people are aware
of the increased pace of globalization and are aware as well of its
implications. That is a good thing. We live in an age where democracy
has flourished, where voters and consumers want more information and
control, greater accountability and greater ownership.
challenge is how to work together internationally for the benefit of
ordinary people everywhere. The WTO is at the very heart of this
is not surprising. International trade is an important cross-border
issue. Even more so nowadays, since trade policy touches on sensitive
issues like the environment and food safety, which are becoming the
very stuff of politics in the post-Cold War era. And the WTO, with its
many ambitious and wide-ranging agreements and its uniquely binding
dispute-settlement mechanism, is a particularly advanced instrument of
have no doubt that the WTO is a force for good in the world. A glance
at history tells us that the past 50 years of trade liberalisation are
incomparably better than the protectionist nightmare of the 1930s.
Indeed, the last 50 years has seen unparalleled prosperity and growth
and more has been done to address poverty in these last 50 years than
the previous 500.
me give some important examples. Since 1960, child death rates have
halved in developing countries; malnutrition rates have declined by 33
percent; and the proportion of school children who do not go to school
has dropped from around half to a quarter. Further, the number of
rural families without access to safe water has fallen from nine
tenths to one quarter. Over 150 million people have been taken out of
extreme poverty in China alone in the past 10 years.
me add; experience shows, and studies confirm, that countries that are
more open to trade grow faster than those that aren't, and so have
less poverty, better jobs, better hospitals, and better schools.
Thirty years ago, Ghana had the same living standards as South Korea.
Now South Korea is in the OECD. Thirty years ago, Japan had developing
country status. What a tribute to openness, democracy and free trade.
That is why over the past 15 years, developing country after
developing country has unilaterally made liberalisation the keystone
of their economic policies.
multilateral trading system proved its worth again only a few years
ago when it helped keep markets open in the wake of the financial
crisis that started in Asia and then swept the world, thus helping to
prevent a global recession.
question is: are we paying for the undoubted benefits of the WTO with
an unacceptable loss of democracy? Honestly, I don't think so.
one thing, all WTO agreements are reached by a consensus of our 140
member governments. We have no security council. Every country has a
veto, and they are not afraid to use it. In most countries, WTO
agreements are then ratified by elected national parliaments.
course, this means deals sometimes take a long time to broker. With so
many stakeholders (140 members), the processes are difficult and
laborious. It is like trying to run a Parliament without a speaker,
without whips, without parties and without speaking limits. But it is
democratic and it does ensure all our members participate fully.
a member government feels that another is not playing by the rules to
which it has previously signed up, it can ask an impartial WTO panel
to arbitrate. It is quite similar to asking a commercial court to rule
on whether or not parties are sticking to a contract they have agreed.
Again, nothing undemocratic there. I am sure Kofi Annan would like a
binding disputes mechanism he could use in world trouble spots.
WTO is above all an intergovernmental organization. So it is mainly
accountable to the people through their governments. But we are
accountable in other ways as well. Through the media, for instance.
Through our contacts with civil society, trade unions, business,
lobbies, churches and NGOs. And through parliamentarians like
me say a little more about our current efforts concerning parliaments
and parliamentarians. The WTO's External Relations Division deals with
enquiries from Members of Parliament most days. I hold regular
meetings with parliamentarians. I make a point of testifying before
parliamentary committees as often as possible. I have made contact
with global parliamentary associations like the International
Parliamentary Union and regional assemblies in an attempt to inform
and involve. Early in my term, I approached the IPU and suggested we
should hold seminars to explain to legislators our role, to point out
that we don't own governments, they own us. I have also made contact
with the global international organizations such as Socialist
International, Liberal International and the Democratic Union,
addressing their conferences and offering our services.
course, we can do more. We always can. But consider the alternatives.
One option is to do away with the WTO. Some extremists suggest that if
there were no WTO there would be no globalization. If each country set
its trade laws in isolation, we would not need to worry about the
imperfections of international democracy. But we have been down that
road before. Before too long, protectionist lobbies would get the
upper hand. And as we learned from the 1930s, beggar-thy-neighbour
policies soon end up making beggars of us all.
option is to treat the world as if it were a nation state writ-large.
There could be world elections to a world parliament and even a world
government. But that is not realistic, in fact it would be dangerous.
It would achieve the opposite of what the proponents suggest. There is
no such thing as a world electorate. Europe's 350 million people would
not accept being continually outvoted by China's 1,300 million. Nor it
is desirable: most decisions that affect New Zealanders are still best
taken in New Zealand rather than at a global or regional level.
global institutions are 50 years old. We are middle-aged, and at 50 it
is prudent to undergo regular check ups. We were established out of
the horror and lessons of the First World War and Great Depression,
made deeper and more lethal by protectionism policies and higher
tariffs. The twin tyrannies of our age, Fascism and Marxism, were
given momentum from this economic collapse. Then came the Second World
War. From this came the noble Marshall Plan, where the victors funded
former enemies into future competitors. The mirror opposite of the
Versailles Treaty, they gave us the United Nations and its many
agencies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the
is time for a check-up, an audit of our global institutions. I believe
in the post-war structure. With all its imperfections, the world would
be less stable, less predictable and more dangerous without these
institutions. We are fortunate that great public servants like Kofi
Annan and Jim Wolfensohn are there to guide us with their wisdom and
vision. Perhaps we can assist their efforts, and my own, by updating
our various management structures.
best option is to improve on what we have already. For, me, that means
doing more to reconnect the WTO with ordinary people. Some of this is
up to the WTO Secretariat (and we have important initiatives
underway). But most of it is a job for governments. So, what can WTO
I believe the WTO could be more open, so people can judge whether
their government is carrying out its mandate in Geneva. (I also
believe that the debates on transparency currently underway in Geneva
show this is also the view of most Members.) WTO rules are all
publicly available, but perhaps the arguments and reasoning that shape
their formation should be too. (But it is not for me or the WTO to
make public the bottom line of a sovereign Government in sensitive
negotiations.) Let me add that we give the enemies of 'open societies'
an unnecessary hammer to beat us with because of aspects of our
culture and procedures.
I believe many governments could do more to inform their people about
the WTO and its activities. They could develop better procedures for
informing parliaments and voters about their work at the WTO, just as
some European Union members have done about their work in Brussels.
more might be done to involve Parliamentarians in the WTO's work. I
believe Parliamentarians could, if given the opportunity, assist
governments to bridge the gap between the WTO and voters by holding
public hearings and better engaging the public at home in the creation
and implementation of policy. I might add that parliamentarians
already play a very important part in the WTO as they are charged with
the responsibility of ratifying our agreements. In saying this, I
cannot, of course, prejudge how far the links can or should go. That
is for WTO Members to decide and our Members correctly and jealously
guard their prerogatives.
are some ideas. I welcome this debate and the greater scrutiny it
implies. We at the WTO have plenty to be proud of. And we will be even
more effective if we are seen to be more open, more accountable. Then
perhaps we can do better with our members who could give us the
resources to assist our more marginalized members. I do not dream of
having the budget of the World Wildlife Fund which is three times
ours. But perhaps some governments might care to give the same amount
as they give to some NGOS. I have just two staff members dedicated to
dealing with all of civil society, parliaments, NGOs and universities.
can I commend again for your consideration the idea that political
leaders ought to think through the problems and challenges of
coherence and jurisdiction between their institutions — so that the
United Nations and its agencies, World Bank, IMF, ILO and WTO better
serve our masters — yourselves. And your masters — the people.