Is globalization losing momentum?

June 14, 2005

Canadians have been told for years by politicians and business leaders that we have no choice but to adjust to the dictates of economic globalization.

In Canada, this has been used to push for closer integration with the U.S., a less active government, and the abandonment of a social agenda. But it appears that in other parts of the world, citizens are rejecting the notion that they have no choice when it comes to globalization.

The most recent example is the rejection by Dutch and French voters of the version of European integration being pushed by political and economic elites.

In spite of politicians claiming that a No vote would mean chaos and the collapse of the European project, 62 per cent of voters rejected the proposed EU constitution in the Netherlands while 55 per cent rejected it in France.

There are a variety of reasons why the French and the Dutch rejected the proposed constitution. Some on the right fear loss of control over immigration policy, while many others see the constitution as part of a shift away from a social agenda to a market-based approach.

While the document includes nice phrases about social objectives, it fundamentally states an objective is to create "an internal market where competition is free and undistorted." Many critics see the proposed constitution as the imposition of a political and economic framework that promotes the neo-liberal over the European model of social and economic development - free markets over social justice.

It is not entirely surprising that the document was rejected. The 400-plus-page constitution certainly isn't a people's document. It was prepared with little if any democratic input from citizens.

What I find particularly revealing is that voters rejected the advice and threats from the established political parties on both the left and the right.

The No votes are also a reaction to the recent neo-liberal policy shifts in France and the Netherlands which is undermining social programs, such as the pension system, unemployment supports and social housing. The referendum became an opportunity for many to show their discontent with government policies in general.

Corporate globalization may also be in for a bit of a rough ride when the G-8 leaders meet in Scotland next month. The G-8 summit, which claims a main objective is "to manage the effects of globalization," is expected to be met by more than 100,000 demonstrators in at least two marches pushing to "make poverty history" and for debt relief for Africa.

To meet these demands, the G-8 will have to reject some of the policies that the G-8 countries have themselves promoted in the past - policies that have caused much of the damage of globalization.

Europeans are not the only ones rejecting corporate globalization. In South America - Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador - voters have elected governments that are, to varying degrees, challenging the notion that there is no alternative.

Governments don't always fulfil their campaign promises, but it is significant that citizens in Latin America, after experiencing more than a decade of market-oriented restructuring of their societies, are looking for alternatives. The political changes in Latin American are jeopardizing the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).

If the current unrest in Bolivia is any indication, citizens there are also rejecting neo-liberal globalization, insisting that the country's resources, specifically natural gas, be exploited to benefit the poor within Bolivia.

In Mexico, the clear front-runner to replace Vicente Fox as president in 2006 is Lopez Obrador, a critic of NAFTA and a candidate described by Newsweek as someone who may "abandon free market policies."

Opinion polls put Obrador, the current mayor of Mexico City, at 45 per cent while his closest rival sits at 25 per cent. In a recent interview, Obrador noted, "We want to introduce to NAFTA a concept of economic co-operation. We don't want to settle for a commercial agreement, we want to think in terms of Mexico's development in order to improve living conditions in the country."

Imagine that, trade agreements that are designed to benefit workers, communities and the environment.

Meanwhile in Canada, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), representing Canada's 150 largest corporations, continues to push for greater integration with the U.S.

The CCCE's recent report entitled "Building a North American Community" calls for the establishment of a North American security and economic community by 2010. This would include a common security perimeter with harmonized immigration and refugee regulations, intelligence gathering and surveillance.

They call for closer military co-operation, the development of a North American alternative to Kyoto, a North American energy strategy and North American regulatory harmonization.

While the concept may seem far-fetched, we should not underestimate the influence of the CCCE. These are, after all, the folks who brought us the North American (NAFTA) and the Canada-U.S. (FTA) free trade agreements.

Would that the Canadian government and the captains of industry have the guts to put their plans for North American integration to a popular vote; we might find out what Canadians really think about corporate globalization.

John Jacobs is director of the Nova Scotia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (, an independent public policy research institute.