tide is high but I’m holding on, I’m gonna be your number one, I’m not the kind
of guy who gives up just like that…" Mike Moore, two-thirds of the way through
his stint as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation is crooning to the
Third World – and anyone else who might be listening – again.
Commenting on the "Battle of Seattle" Moore said: "The people that stand outside
and say they work in the interests of the poorest people …they make me want to
vomit. Because the poorest people on our planet, they are the ones that need us
hear Mike masquerading as champion of the world’s poor again I will probably
puke. As a long-serving politician down under, New Zealanders concerned about
the WTO’s global free market economic agenda are grimly familiar with his
political and economic views. He is frequently described – rather grandly – as
"a former Prime Minister of New Zealand". Few realise that this was for a mere
eight weeks before his Labour government’s resounding loss to the National Party
in the 1990 elections.
Moore has other worries. November’s WTO Ministerial Meeting in Qatar may not end
with an agreement to initiate another round of multilateral trade negotiations.
Without this, he says, "the WTO will be condemned to irrelevancy for quite some
Backed by the USA, Moore began a three-year post as head of the WTO in September
1999 after a job-sharing compromise arrangement ended an acrimonious deadlock
with the Thai contender, Supachai Panitchpakdi.
month he told an African trade ministers conference in Algiers that he was "a
citizen of a very small country", "I want to be your Ambassador in Geneva", and
could advocate for smaller, poorer countries at the WTO. His speech shocked many
in the audience. It totally ignored Africa’s realities and concerns about
globalisation, instead campaigning for a new round of negotiations and a raft of
new issues – to which the African nations had clearly stated their opposition.
The African ministers did not want to be "sidelined and rejected" again, and
issued a statement clearly opposing a new round. Ghanaian economist Tetteh
Hormeku described Moore’s Algiers address as a "travesty".
Moore’s claims to be a champion for the world’s poor do not sit well with his
disregard for the human costs of applying free market ideology in his own
country. More recently he has not been successful in winning over increasingly
sceptical Third World members of the WTO who question the benefits of the last
round of GATT negotiations. Many of them have consistently sought a moratorium
on further trade negotiations at the WTO until there has been a review and
assessment of existing agreements.
Moore’s economic fundamentalism has probably not helped the WTO. Nearly two
years after the failure of the Seattle meeting to launch a "Millennium round",
the tide is indeed high. The WTO membership is just as polarised between those
who want a new round of multilateral trade talks and those who do not. While the
US, the EU and others are expected to increase pressure for a new round, the
majority of the WTO’s 142 member countries are not prepared to agree that the
November meeting initiate negotiations towards new rules or agreements on new
issues. Ministers from least developed countries met in Zanzibar this July and
rejected a new round of negotiations and reiterated a demand for a review of
existing WTO commitments. Reporting on the positions of "developing" countries
at a 30-31 July WTO General Council informal "stocktaking" meeting, Third World
Network’s Martin Khor wrote: "When they face so many problems in existing
agreements why should they agree to enter negotiations in new areas that will
land them with new obligations which they will then have more problems in trying
Moore is not listening. Instead he says "I want to be their (poor countries’);
champion inside the round" and asks, "Can I be politically incorrect? Just
because the great economic powers want something, that does not automatically
make it wrong."
the WTO, Moore has learnt little of the realities of the majority of the world’s
population. But then again, he claims the WTO job is "a walk in the park
compared to internal Labour politics".
it suits, Moore claims leftwing internationalism as a shared tradition of the
WTO: In July 2000 he told the International Union of Socialist Youth Festival in
Malmo, Sweden, "We on the Left have a lot to be proud of. We built the welfare
state that looks after people when they are sick, poor, or old. We fought for
the equality of women and minorities. We argued passionately for
internationalism, for solidarity between workers in Sweden and those in Africa
…. I am, and always will be, a Labour man". Moore’s Labour is the version
embodied by the 1984-90 New Zealand long before Blair’s "New" Labour ruled
Britain. It was, The Economist wrote "the sort of socialism of which
millionaires approve…" a "free-market experiment in socialist sheep’s
1984-1990 Labour Governments in which Moore was Minister for Overseas Trade (and
briefly, Prime Minister) implemented the most radical economic reforms that any
OECD country had ever seen. Many cheered the government on for its anti-nuclear
policy. Few realised the implications of the economic changes being unleashed.
While many were lulled into a false sense of security by Labour’s multisectoral
"consultation" on social and economic issues, few predicted the ruthless
imposition of sweeping reforms which had never been part of its election
1988, The Economist described this period as "out-Thatchering Mrs Thatcher". A
New Zealand business weekly compared it to Pinochet’s Chile "without the gun".
Between 1988 and 1993, New Zealand led the world in the sale of state-owned
assets, often at bargain basement prices, to overseas investors, mostly
transnational corporations. Some NZ $14 billion (from a total $19 billion in
asset sales from 1987-1999) was sold off during these years. The market value of
the assets sold to overseas investors since 1987 is equivalent to about
two-thirds of the worth of New Zealand’s top 200 companies.
Labour Party programme – dubbed "Rogernomics" after former Finance Minister,
Roger Douglas – included unilateral and rapid removal of virtually all
restrictions on foreign investment, all import controls and most tariffs,
floating the NZ dollar, an independent Reserve Bank with the exclusive objective
to control inflation, extensive programs of corporatisation and privatisation,
and radical restructuring of the public sector. The first major steps to
deregulate the labour market also began under Labour.
Zealand went into recession with the highest unemployment since the 1930s
depression. The number of New Zealanders estimated to be below the poverty line
rose by at least 35% between 1989 and 1992. By 1993 one in six New Zealanders
was considered to be living in poverty. Nearly 76000 jobs were lost in the
manufacturing sector between 1986 and 1992 (25% of all manufacturing jobs) –
many directly due to aggressive tariff reduction. As National Party governments
pushed on further with this economic model in the 1990s, the human costs of
implementing "globalisation as ideology" intensified.
During Moore’s time as Trade Minister, the New Zealand government became an
enthusiastic activist for agricultural trade liberalization in the Uruguay Round
of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). Moore was regarded as "one
of America’s best allies" by the US special trade negotiators in agricultural
February 1999 US government document "Scenesetter for FBI Director Freeh’s Visit
to New Zealand", recently obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act
states "we have no better friend than New Zealand in our push to open markets
and liberalize trade worldwide. We work hand-in-glove in APEC and at the World
Trade Organization (WTO)."
some Labour Party members have tried distancing themselves from their
involvement in the New Zealand market experiment, hoping to bring back many of
its traditional supporters who felt betrayed and alienated by the 1980s reforms,
Moore has not.
is the legacy which Mike Moore left in New Zealand and some of the historical
baggage he brings to his WTO position. The relentless pursuit of free market
goals which he engaged in back home has continued throughout his first two years
of his WTO role.
in opposition – between 1990 and the time he took up the WTO post – Moore
remained one of New Zealand’s most zealous exponents of free trade. Following
yet another election defeat and an bitter internal coup which removed him as
Labour leader, in April 1994, he attended the final signing of the GATT Uruguay
Round agreements in Marrakesh which led to the formation of the WTO. His
presence stymied any attempts within the Labour party and caucus to debate the
benefits of free trade and investment. He rarely missed a chance to wax lyrical
about the supposed wonders of free trade and investment and to attack critics of
Moore is a genuine free market evangelist. New Zealand media had long dubbed him
"Mad Mike". One journalist described him as having ten ideas a minute but not
being sure which was the good one. In 1996, as Opposition spokesman on foreign
affairs and trade, he railed maniacally at New Zealand critics of free trade,
dubbing them "primitives who if they had their way would plunge our nation and
the region into chaos and depression" and "grumpy geriatric communists…a
mutant strain of the left… who tuck their shirts into their underpants." Now
as the mouthpiece of the WTO he is seeking "civilised discourse" with NGOs….
1997, he claimed all Parliamentarians "except the terminally deranged" would
support the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) which stalled at the OECD
a year later. He is forever creating straw men to try to discredit critics of
free trade and investment. Again referring to the anti-MAI campaign, "The left
in New Zealand", he claimed, "have borrowed a lot of the literature and
arguments used by the extreme right-wing militia type in the United States who
believe there is a sinister group of people plotting away trying to make a World
Government and deny people their individual and national rights." Curiously,
this is the man who last year, on a brief return visit to New Zealand, lamented
"There’s something about our country. We’ve always got a bad word to say about
was a Member of New Zealand’s Parliament (MP) for all but three years since 1972
- most of his adult life. Yet some international media characterised Moore as a
feisty trade unionist. Jagdish Bhagwati, Columbia University professor and
economic policy adviser to the GATT Director-General from 1991-93, said Moore’s
"union background might make him seem sympathetic to labour standards being
linked to trade within WTO negotiations".
Rosenberg, a New Zealand foreign investment analyst and unionist wrote two years
is not clear where Moore got this reputation: he does not have it at home….The
Labour Party originated from the union movement, and was heavily supported by it
in gaining power in 1984, but its subsequent actions led many unions to
disaffiliate themselves from it. Some MPs made attempts to retain the
national union president in 1994, I regularly attended meetings in Christchurch
(where Moore’s electorate is situated) between local Labour MPs and union
representatives. Though most other Labour MPs attended at various times, Moore
never did. A recent check with a local union leader confirmed that he still has
no contact with unionists, at least in the town of his constituency base".
Successive New Zealand governments – Labour, National, and now a Labour-led
coalition (ironically elected promising to reject freemarket fundamentalism in
its domestic policies) have followed a programme placing this country at the
extreme end of trade and investment liberalisation. For us the WTO agenda
remains the New Zealand freemarket experiment writ large.
Mike still wants to be our number one….