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Life | The Trade Trap

Augustine Adongo is the chief executive of the Federation of Associations of Ghanaian Exporters. It’s his job to help Ghana’s manufacturers gain a bigger share of the international trade market – and so, the economists insist, make all Ghanaians better off. But if this is so, Augustine wants to know, why does it always appear that the cards stacked against him? Today, it’s the mantra of the globalization lobby – from the IMF, World Bank and G7 group of richest nations to the American far-right lobbyists who dislike the whole concept of multilateral agreements – that trade is now the way for poor countries to work their way out of poverty. All they’ve got to do is to open their markets to other people’s goods too, deregulate, and ensure openness and good ‘governance’ – and then they, too, can join the rich man’s club. But anti-globalization protesters from Seattle to Genoa have argued that trade isn’t actually working for the poorest of the poor – the one billion people round the world who live on less than a dollar a day. They say the rules are rigged in the rich world’s favour – by subsidies to sectors like farming or construction where the poor can most easily compete, by stacks of regulations supposedly about hygiene and and labour standards that are really intended to keep the poor countries’ goods out, and by shameless penalties on countries like Ghana that try to manufacture goods like tomato puree from their own raw materials. And besides, they argue, what’s the point of making things for export when they can’t even feed themselves? Life looks at the arguments for and against.

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