What do we want? The completion of the Doha Round of world trade talks! When do we want it? Now!
So here we go again, folks. It is now 10 years since the anti-capitalists attacked the City of London, and next week they intend to outdo themselves. In student bedsits and in terrace Kensington houses, the alienated children of the middle classes are planning to subvert the G20 summit. Across the desolate wastes of the Leftie internet, their wrathful campfires are already burning, and when April dawns they will surge like the orcs of Mordor in the general direction of the Bank of England.
They will taunt the police. They will paralyse traffic. They will do their utmost to spoil your day; and when they have been sufficiently whipped up by the oratory of Tony Benn, and when Billy Bragg has finished his ditties, it is a safe bet that they will begin the chant of hate. Somewhere in the crowd, a nose-ringed twerp will drain a mouthful of cider and call to his comrades. “What do we want?” he will demand.
And at that moment, a great silence will fall in the carnival of cretinous crusties. The papier mâché horsemen of the Apocalypse will turn their heads inquiringly in his direction. “What do we want?” he will demand again, a shade more hysterically, and by this time the rioters will be looking at their feet and coughing. Er. What do they want?
The embarrassing truth is that they haven’t a clue. They seem to be cross about the recession, and also about climate change – even though there is nothing like an economic downturn for reducing CO2 emissions. They are apparently enraged that state money is being used to prop up the banks, though they don’t mind forcing the taxpayer to cough up millions to police their antics. They say they want to “burn a banker” and “stop the City”, and no matter how superficially appealing those ambitions may be, it is hard to see how they can be turned into practical economic policies.
So, in a spirit of compassion, let me give the G20 protesters the slogan they need. Here is a demand they could make that would transform the lives and hopes of millions of the poorest people on earth. It is a global stimulus package that doesn’t involve borrowing untold trillions from future generations. It is something the world’s leaders have been trying and failing to do for the past nine years, and if I were the man with the megaphone my cry would be: “What do we want? The completion of the Doha Round of world trade talks! When do we want it? Now!”
It is unbelievable that we are holding this gigantic summit, with thousands of global politicians and officials descending on London, and after two days of talks we are seriously proposing that they should be allowed to get back into their planes and go home without an agreement on free trade. We are apparently standing on the lip of the greatest recession since the 1930s, and world trade has fallen dizzyingly fast. In a developing country like Thailand – recently seen as one of those Asian tiger economies – it is down 30 per cent. All kinds of protectionism are starting to emerge, from Barack Obama’s Buy America Act to Nicolas Sarkozy’s alarming proposal to repatriate car production to France.
Worst of all, the near-collapse of the banking system, and the shortage of credit, has encouraged the big Western financial institutions to turn their backs on the developing world. Money is being sluiced back home, to Europe and America, with catastrophic consequences for anyone who wants to get a loan in, say, Nigeria. In these circumstances, it is doubly immoral and disgusting that we continue to restrict the access of the developing world to our markets, and that we continue to use huge sums of taxpayers’ money to dump our products on the Third World.
In case you haven’t been following the Doha Round, the thing collapsed in July last year, after eight sputtering years, and everyone has been blaming India. The Indians wanted to be able to retain the right to impose tariffs against sudden surges of imports into their domestic market. Their trade minister, Kamal Nath, raised the possibility of mass suicides of Indian farmers. You might think that sounds hysterical, and you might be right; and yet the Indians have a point.
We Europeans are still spending £40 billion on farm subsidies, and the Americans are spending about £14 billion, sums the developing world cannot afford to match. America still spends at least £3.5 billion a year on subsidising cotton, and about £1.4 billion on rice, and yes, that subsidised rice and cotton could certainly cause havoc with the domestic Indian market if it were allowed to surge in from America; and so the answer is not just to blame the Indians for their intransigence, but to get the Europeans and the Americans to cut farm subsidies. African cotton producers have been more or less wiped out by American tactics. Why should Indian producers go the same way?
It would be nice to say that things are moving in the right direction under President Obama. It would be nice to think that the world’s most famous son of a Kenyan goatherd is going to do something to help Kenyan goatherds – not least since the World Trade Organisation still allows vicious spike tariffs against meat products from Africa. Alas, the omens are not good. Instead, President Obama says that America will “aggressively defend” its “rights and benefits” in trade negotiations, and the paralysis continues.
Of course I am not suggesting that the completion of the Doha Round will solve the banking crisis, and lift the world out of recession. But unless we have the political courage to do a deal, we seem to be legitimating the current disastrous trend towards economic nationalism and protection. I don’t want to read any nonsense in the G20 communique about how they are “resolved” to do a deal. I don’t want them to “reaffirm their commitment”. There is little point in having this summit unless they recognise the gravity of the situation, and sign an agreement next week. So there’s your chant, my crusty friends. What do we want? Free Trade! When do we want it? Now!
[First published in the Daily Telegraph on 24 March, 2009 under the heading: “Here’s a slogan for the G20 mob: What do we want? Free trade!”]