Mbeki Turnabout

South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki, in an apparent turnaround on anti-globalization, is now drumming up support for anti-globalization protest groups in their efforts to win a better deal for poorer nations at the World Trade Organization’s upcoming Cancun meeting to negotiate a new global trade treaty.

During a visit to Malaysia to strengthen ties between Africa and south-east Asia, Mbeki told a September 3 seminar in Kuala Lumpur: “They (anti-globalization protesters) may act in ways that you and I would not like — breaking windows in the street and this and that — but the message they are communicating relates to us.” Citing the role United States lobby groups played in winning American support for sanctions against South Africa during the apartheid-era, Mbeki said the developing world should try to enlist public opinion in the West to force more powerful nations to stop violating trade rules.

Mbeki noted that many poorer countries and their supporters were angry about the US and Europe forcing poorer nations in Africa and Asia to lower trade protection measures by tying aid to compliance. Yet, at the same time, the US and Europe openly flouted trade liberalization agreements when it came to opening up their own economies to imports from developing nations.

The South African president has himself been coming under increasingly bitter left-wing criticism in his own country for what is seen as his government’s slavish adherence to the conditions of underdevelopment imposed on South Africa by multinational corporations. If Mbeki’s statement in Kuala Lumpur is a true reflection of the South African government’s current, official attitude toward the anti-globalization lobby, it is in marked contrast to last August’s tear-gassing and mass arrests of protesters in Johannesburg during the United Nations world summit on sustainable development.

WTO meetings have in recent years been the scene of vigorous anti-globalization protests drawing hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. In some cases, police have struggled to quell protesters wearing hoods and gas masks as they went on rampages attacking outlets of multinational corporations. The Cancun, Mexico, meeting of the WTO is set for September 10-14 for the latest negotiations on a global trade treaty. About 150 member countries are expected to attend.

ENDS – 370 words — September 3, 2003

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