What does it take to be anti-GATT?
Danilo Araña Arao
Philippine Daily Inquirer (Youngblood), 6 December 1994, p. 9
POINTS have been raised and lines have been drawn. Who emerges victorious from the GATT debate may not necessarily get the plum on Dec. 8 when the Senate makes the much-awaited decision.
It appears that regardless of what transpires in the succeeding interpellations, at least 10 senators have already made up their minds to ratify the controversial agreement. On the other hand, at least four are expected to vote against it. The former would need six more votes to ensure ratification, while the latter would require only an addition of four to facilitate rejection. The remaining nine senators still having qualms could still vote either way.
As the legislators and cause-oriented groups gear up for the historical battle, there remains a need to clarify the stand of the anti group due to recent pronouncements and labelings made by the powers-that-be.
Being anti-GATT is not a result of ignorance and poor understanding of the provisions of the Uruguay Round Final Act, contrary to claims of government officials and their apologists.
Opting to go against the controversial agreement is more of having a sense of history and the ability to transcend econometrics. It also shows consistency in analyzing the societal ills plaguing our country, and serves as a continuum in attaining the vision for an alternative society.
But even then, I don't think that the anti-GATT groups and individuals have a common stand. Based on personal experience, there are at least two levels of being anti-GATT.
Regarding the first level, groups and individuals may opt to go against the treaty since it wants a deferment of ratification. There are varied reasons for doing so, but the most popular are the arguments that we are not yet prepared for it and that there are not enough safety nets. In addition, it may be that they see viability in renegotiating to get a better deal, or it could be that they see a need to rectify the technical errors made in our commitment under GATT, particularly mistakes in computing the minimum access volumes of products like live swine and sugar. (A Senate insider notes that there are at least 15 tariff lines where errors were committed.) One of the most popular advocates of renegotiation is Prof. Walden Bello and his group, Inform.
The second level of being anti-GATT is the option of outright rejection. This stand is mainly rooted in the refusal to adhere to the development paradigm expoused by GATT, which is characterized by trade liberalization and limited government intervention in economic activities, among others. It also perceives the agreement as a move of industrialized nations to maintain their political and economic hegemony vis-a-vis the Third World, not to mention the further entrenchment of transnational interests. The negative repercussions on the peasants, who comprise majority of the population, are also argued. The multisectoral group called Pumalag fall under this category, as well as Bayan.
There are basic differences between the two, since one sees hope in playing within the GATT framework while the other opts to work totally outside of it. While foreign intervention may be duly considered by the two levels, those who advocate outright rejection reaffirm the need to struggle against neocolonialism, and rearticulate the collusion of TNCs with the local elite.
There is some semblance of objectivity for those who want renegotiation, but it seems that they harbor the illusion of political altruism.
Simply, there is a belief that we are on equal footing with the industrialized countries, given the more "democratic structure" of GATT (e.g., one country, one vote) compared with the IMF, for instance, where a country's voting power is measured by how much special drawing rights (SDRs) it has.
Based on the conduct of the Urugual Round from 1986 to 1993, however, this democratic character has only existed on paper. Major decisions were made by the US, Japan and the EC, with the developing countries reduced to mere spectators most of the time. To provide concrete instances, it would do well to read the book "Recolonization" by Chakravarthi Raghavan (1990).
On the other hand, those who advocate outright rejection of the GATT is much more consistent in using their political line. They explicitly stress the need for protectionism, and they don't get entangled in the peripheral issues like not having enough safety nets and the incompetence of our GATT negotiators. The bottomline is simple: GATT is a deterrent to the kind of development they think must be pursued. Therefore, it must be rejected, and consequently, an alternative development strategy must be implemented.
Which brings us to the accusation that those who reject GATT are "antidevelopment" and "ultranationalists." There is a big difference between opposing development per se and rejecting the kind of development being peddled by the government. It should not be a surprise that the GATT rejectionists also oppose the Philippines 2000 vision.
In rejecting mainstream development, the "alternative" characterized by strong state intervention in the economy and nationalization of strategic industries, among others, is being forwarded. If an advocate of such is branded by whatever exonym the government thinks of (e.g., ultranationalist), then I think he or she should take it as a compliment.
A senator also noted that the anti-GATT group is basically composed of Marxists. It must be stressed that in any form of debate, labeling is only done by an opponent as an act of desperation, when arguments can no longer be sufficiently answered.
And so, back to the original question: What does it take to be anti-GATT? Simple. It takes a progressive mind and a bleeding heart for the impoverished.
Danny Arao, 26, is currently writing his master's thesis on the political economy of GATT. He hopes that the decision of the Senate on Dec. 8 will not render his work obsolete.