Anti-trade hypocrisy is hard to digest

Anyone looking for straight talk, therefore, should turn to British Labour's Claire Short, Minister of International Development, who says she has never understood how attacking McDonald's improves the lot of a single poor person.

The Globe and Mail
April 17, 2001

Anti-trade hypocrisy is hard to digest
The French government cheers on protesters who trash McDonald's. Is Ottawa secretly swallowing their anti-globalization sympathies?
Norman Spector

On the inside, the sherpas will have already completed the final communiqué of the Summit of the Americas, carefully leaving several square brackets for the 34 leaders to sort out. A wise official always ensures that his boss can proclaim a personal victory, however small, at the end of the day.

Outside, on the narrow streets of Quebec, the script is still to be written. Backed by pepper spray and plastic bullets — and a security fence nicknamed "The Wall" — 6,000 police officers may prevent the worst. But no one can yet say how much damage will be done to the city's, indeed Canada's, international reputation.

It's safe to predict, however, that we'll be seeing a lot of José Bové on our television screens this week. A sheep farmer, Mr. Bové rose to fame after ransacking a McDonald's restaurant in France. His fight against American malbouffe (it means both junk food and Frankenfood) has made him a national hero, notwithstanding that more Frenchmen die every year from eating cheese than from a Big Mac attack.

Mr. Bové's Roquefort on a baguette is admittedly more interesting. Still, it is extraordinary that neither President Jacques Chirac nor Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has ever condemned his actions, preferring to be photographed with the pipe-smoking defender of "exceptionalism" (France's euphemism for protectionist policies).

Earlier this month, Canadian immigration authorities indicated Mr. Bové would not be admitted, the farmer having been convicted for his culinary crime. However, badly trailing in the presummit propaganda war, Ottawa backed down and issued a permit to one of the stars of the anti-globalization movement.

Heaven, it has been said, is French food and British government, and hell the reverse. Too bad Jean Chrétien has chosen to follow the French government, which indulges critics of globalization rather than talking turkey to them.

In contrast, British Prime Minister Tony Blair — whose Third Way affirms baldly that capitalism is superior to socialism in creating wealth – told Canadian parliamentarians during his February visit: " … it's time we started to argue vigorously and clearly for free trade.

It's the key to jobs for our people, prosperity and to development in the poorest parts of the world. The case against it is misguided and, worse, unfair. However sincere the protests, they cannot be allowed to stand in the way of rational argument."

True, such talk embarrasses the Liberal Party, which opposed Canada-U.S. free trade and pledged to renegotiate NAFTA while in opposition. Still, you'd expect that at least Finance Minister Paul Martin would speak more about the benefits of globalization than its downsides, as he has been doing of late.

Anyone looking for straight talk, therefore, should turn to British Labour's Claire Short, Minister of International Development, who says she has never understood how attacking McDonald's improves the lot of a single poor person.

She should explain to NDP members of Parliament, who will be in the streets with Mr. Bové, that his farm group strongly supports the Common Agricultural Policy, which provides outlandishly rich subsidies to European farmers to the detriment of Saskatchewan's. Or, that countries in trade agreements have developed more quickly than those that are not. And that many who will be in the streets of Quebec are reactionaries in progressive clothing, starting with the trade unions that favour making poor countries poorer by hindering their exports to developed countries.

Still, the anti-globalization movement is on a roll, thanks to new communications media that have been stimulating outbreaks of emotion over reason around the world.

Satellites distribute horrific images of children being killed, thereby adding new fuel to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Internet chat rooms help to inflame Chinese nationalism over a downed spy plane.

Meanwhile, protesters attracted to Quebec by images of the good times had by all at the Battle of Seattle, learn the latest "direct action" techniques on anarchist Internet sites.

But governments must share responsibility for the crisis atmosphere that prevails in the lead-up to the summit. Ottawa lost the public relations war by concentrating on the security battle, only late in the day trying to shift attention to democracy in the hemisphere and pushing for release of the negotiating texts. While Alexa McDonough deserves some credit for taking a clear stand against globalization, Mr. Chrétien has failed to make the countercase, thus allowing opponents to define the issues.

Now, because he and Bernard Landry are engaged in a flag war, Canada faces international embarrassment every time Quebec's giant screen – 12 metres high and 13.5 metres wide — flashes messages to the delegates. If he keeps to his current approach, Mr. Chrétien may yet achieve the impossible: reconciling Quebec and the Anglo-Canadian left, who divorced over Brian Mulroney's trade deal more than a decade ago.

Norman Spector was secretary to the cabinet for federal-provincial relations and chief of staff to Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney.


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