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Market Missionaries Flock To The Pacific


Choudry

“Your

nonsense spreads to Pacific beliefs like the plague bubonic/ speaking tongues

parallel to concrete jungle mumbo.”  

(Reverse Resistance, by King Kapisi)

Samoan hiphop artist King Kapisi slams colonialism and missionary beliefs on his

Savage Thoughts CD. Another kind of missionary has been active in the Pacific

for many years. Like their predecessors they claim that they alone follow the

true path, and that there is no alternative to their vision. Their articles of

faith include reform programmes, privatisation, and public sector downsizing.

Salvation will be achieved through embracing the cash economy, attracting

foreign investment, greater integration into the global economy and debt

servicing. Amen.

At

this month’s regional consultation on globalisation debt and trade in Nadave,

Fiji, organised by Pacific Island NGOs, participants identified three priority

concerns – economic reforms, the power and role of transnational corporations

and free trade. We heard of fightbacks against water privatisation in Fiji and

the environmental and social devastation caused by mining and logging in Papua

New Guinea (PNG), Bougainville, and the Solomon Islands. There were tales of

deals struck between foreign investors and governments behind the backs of

traditional landowners. We discussed how Coca Cola-nisation has devalued

traditional diets, values and societies. We shared strategies for raising

awareness and mobilising communities in the Pacific.

Sadly, while many international peoples’ gatherings on globalisation have

boasted the name “Asia Pacific”, there has been little acknowledgement of the

existence of the Pacific and its peoples in such fora. Pacific struggles for

economic justice and self-determination are often eclipsed by issues about Asia,

Europe, Africa and the Americas.

A joint church/NGO submission to Fiji’s 1999 national

budget asked “are we trying to make

Fiji into something it was

never meant to be – a poor copy of large nations, reliant on an economic model

in which we will always be dependent or losers? In our current system some may

profit but most are excluded or exploited. We believe that this system is not

made for us”. Many at Nadave echoed this sentiment.

Only

PNG, Fiji and the Solomons belong to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Samoa,

Tonga and Vanuatu have applied to join. Yet Pacific island nations are under

pressure to restructure and open their economies.

The

Asian Development Bank (ADB), whose board of governors met recently in Honolulu,

operates in 12 Pacific Island member countries. Since 1995 it has promoted a

familiar package of reforms, including privatisation, downsizing the public

sector, cutting government expenditure, and “more open and growth-orientated”

economic policies.

Predictably, the ADB speaks of consulting more widely with “civil society” and

working to “strengthen the interface and collaboration” between Pacific member

governments and NGOs/civil society groups. Its March 2001 report, “A Pacific

Strategy for the New Millennium” states that “wider NGO involvement and

consequent stronger ownership of Pacific developing member country governments’

development strategies and reform agenda has become a priority.” It emphasises

“poverty reduction” and “good governance”. It will tailor its activities towards

“country-specific strategies” in the Pacific. The buzzwords might have changed.

But the economic fundamentals which underpin its programme remain unchallenged.

Pacific peoples have little or no input into the development of macroeconomic

policies affecting them, promoted with little empirical or independent research

on whether or not they are appropriate or desirable for the recipient country.

The

Pacific Islands Forum (formerly the South Pacific Forum) represents 14 Pacific

Island governments (Australia and New Zealand are also members). It plays a key

political role in getting assent and commitment on economic, financial and trade

policy measures. Forum leaders, ministers, and officials have increasingly

focussed on promoting the economic agenda already pushed by World Bank/IMF

structural adjustment programmes, ADB loan conditionalities, the WTO and APEC.

Donor countries like

Australia and New Zealand

frequently link future aid commitments to undertakings by governments to further

pursue economic reforms. Increasingly bilateral aid consists of “technical

assistance” to implement new policies.

Previous preferential trade arrangements, like the Lome agreement between the

European Union and the Africa Caribbean and Pacific (EU-ACP) states have been

replaced with new frameworks aimed at liberalising trade and investment in

Pacific countries. Last year’s Cotonou Agreement, the successor to Lome, listed

the objectives of economic and trade cooperation: “to promote smooth and gradual

integration of ACP economies into the world economy; to enhance production,

supply and trading capacities; to create new trade dynamics and foster

investment; to ensure full conformity with WTO provisions.” In reality, few

Pacific countries enjoy preferential access to Europe’s markets.

Last

July, Forum economic ministers pledged “we will, to the extent practicable,

implement domestic measures consistent with WTO and APEC principles and

obligations, and cooperate in responding to and taking advantage of multilateral

trade developments.” A regional free trade agreement is currently being

negotiated among Pacific island states, although its exact nature is not yet

known. A draft text should be presented to the Pacific Island Forum Trade

Ministers Meeting in June, and Forum Leaders in August, at their meeting in

Nauru.

With

the Cold War’s end, the Pacific’s strategic importance lessened. Aid flows

started to diminish. Bilateral aid programmes had always reflected donor

countries’ political and economic interests. In many cases, 70-90% of official

aid to the Pacific has returned to donor countries like Australia, Japan and New

Zealand, in the form of education services, consultants, technical services and

the provision of materials for infrastructure projects, while creating lucrative

investment opportunities and new markets for goods and services.

In

the Solomon Islands, New Zealand government aid part-funded a programme to

reduce the public sector by 7-10%. Since 1997, New Zealand has supported the ADB

Comprehensive Reform Program in

Vanuatu, which includes

significant cuts to the size of the public sector (an estimated 25-30%

reduction), the introduction of value-added tax, and tariff cuts. Social

services spending cuts and the introduction of user-pays have seen the decline

of health services, especially in rural areas, and imposed barriers to the

affordability of education. Unemployment, especially for youth, has worsened as

the private sector in Pacific Island countries cannot absorb the available

labour. Public sector “rightsizing” has been accompanied by a sudden increase in

the numbers of consultants. New Zealand and Australia have provided assistance

in the establishment of a Privatisation Commission in PNG and its work in

preparing state-owned assets for privatisation.

An

export-oriented, exploitative model of development has become entrenched in

parts of the Pacific. The US-administered Northern Marianas Islands became

best-known for its sweatshops employing low-waged women migrant workers

producing popular clothing for duty-free export to the US market. Much of Fiji’s

textile clothing and footwear export industry is based on tax holidays for

overseas investors, labour market deregulation and wages well below the poverty

line.

The

Solomons and PNG are relatively “resource rich” in minerals and forestry, yet

local communities derive little or no benefit from investment in these sectors.

Logging in the Solomons and PNG has been environmentally destructive and created

few local jobs, with raw logs being exported for processing offshore. In 1993,

Pacific Island countries received US $126 million from a resource worth US $2

billion annually – tuna fishing – an industry dominated by a handful of US and

Asian companies.

Forced dependency on imports has had dire consequences for small Pacific Island

farmers, unable to compete with lower priced products from overseas. While

Pacific nations are told to export more to earn more foreign exchange and repay

debts, commodity prices on world markets continue to plummet, and the floods of

imports of overseas goods and services continue unabated.

The

communal ownership of land, the existence of the subsistence economy (some 85%

of people are engaged in the subsistence economy in PNG, 80% in Vanuatu and the

Solomons, and 55% in the Federated States of Micronesia) and strong

communitarian values are celebrated as strengths against the onslaught of

corporate globalisation by its critics in the Pacific. To the market’s true

believers, however, these obstacles must be overcome in order to entrench the

cash economy and attract foreign investment.

Land

is the issue where opposing values of Pacific societies and corporate

globalisation most obviously collide. In

Melanesia, 97% of land is

communally-owned. The people of Bougainville shut down the massive CRA/RTZ

Panguna copper mine in 1989 after over two decades of environmental degradation,

appalling health problems and the trampling of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights.

Kanak communities have razed tourist developments to the ground in New

Caledonia. The Freeport gold and copper mine in West Papua has destroyed the

lands and rivers of the local Amungme, Dani, Moni and Kamoro peoples, and

remains a potent symbol of the relationship between transnational corporate

greed and Indonesia’s colonial occupation of the territory.

In

PNG land is seen as “my life, my bank, my everything”. In 1995, popular

opposition including mass protests by students, churches, and NGOs against a

World Bank-driven programme to register customary title defeated the

government’s proposed Land Mobilisation Bill designed to attract foreign

investment. One local commentator described this “as little more than a scheme

to ready the legal system and population for massive expropriation of

traditional lands”.

Then,

this March, PNG Defence Force soldiers rebelled against plans to restructure the

PNGDF, but made explicit links between their situation and the structural

adjustment programmes imposed by the IMF, World Bank and the ADB. Army Captain

Stanley Benny said: “Their foreign ideas have completely destroyed the nation.

The World Bank, the IMF and Australian influences – have denuded the nation’s

vast resources under the guise of assistance.” Troops urged that World Bank and

IMF advisors, as well as Australian military advisors, be expelled from the

country. Students and Unions also protested the economic reforms. A joint trade

union/NGO statement read: “The soldiers’ struggle here is part of the people’s

global fight against the wanwol gavman” (global government). The Morauta

Government is cutting back the public sector and introducing privatisation of

public assets such as Air Niugini and Telikom PNG, in return for US$200 million

in soft loans from the international financial institutions.”

Some

Pacific leaders are openly sceptical about the global free market economy. At

January’s Pacific Island Conference of Leaders, Niue’s Prime Minister Sani

Lakatani and Cook Islands Prime Minister Dr. Terepai Maoate strongly criticised

globalisation. Lakatani said. "Small island nations are vulnerable and are

practically of no consequence when it comes to combating the adverse effects of

globalization and what is emerging is a new order of colonialism. The uneven

distribution of wealth and power points to the potential loss of sovereignty by

national governments as the control of their respective economies become more

subject to global forces such as multinational companies and the pressures of

the select global brotherhood."

There

is definitely trouble in paradise. Watch this space.  

 

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