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Globalization: threats and opportunities. (Newsdesk).

Over 170 guests from 16 countries, some 35 distinguished speakers, more than 30 hours of speeches, discussions, papers and presentations. By sheer volume and richness of content the recent conference 'Globalization: embracing opportunity, creating synergy', held at Asia Plateau, the Initiatives of Change centre in Panchgani, India, could be called an unqualified success. But the four-day conference, organized by CIB-APARG (Caux Initiatives for Business-Asia, Pacific, Africa Regional Group) last January, was different in deeper, more meaningful ways.

It is not often that a distinguished world citizen like Olivier Giscard d'Estaing, founder of the INSEAD management school near Paris, inaugurates an international conference with an enthusiastic view of globalization, but shifts. his position enough over the four days to remark that, from now on, he will advocate that not only each continent but each country needs to evolve its own model for dealing with globalization.

It is not often that a prominent member of India's Planning Commission rolls up his sleeves to join volunteers in washing the dishes after dinner. But that was not the only thing Som Pal, who is also a former agriculture minister, did on the second night of the conference. He was so caught up in the spirit of the event that he laboured at a computer for over two hours, writing down his previous day's presentation to give to the many people who were asking for it.

2.30 IN THE MORNING

It is not often that a senior member of parliament sits attentively through each session for one and a half days, then leaves to attend an event in his constituency two hours away, and drives back at 2.30 the next morning because he does not want to miss anything.

It is not often that a former cabinet secretary and former state governor, a serving secretary to the Indian government, the vice chancellor of a central university, and several senior serving and retired civil servants bare not only their erudition but also their fears and experiences of delicate geo-political games at the highest level.

One could go on. Suffice it to say that it was not only those who had come to Asia Plateau for the first time who went away deeply touched, richer in understanding, and promising to return. Even those familiar with this beautiful place in the mountains affirmed that the conference had given them fresh perspectives on the hotly debated issue of globalization.

As Sarosh Ghandy, corporate leader and President of CIB-APARG, outlined at the inauguration, the organizers had realized early in their preparations that they could not present an 'India Model' of globalization. The phenomenon was so complex and multidimensional that it was difficult even for governments to grasp the full range of its implications, advantages and threats. Instead, CIB-APARG decided to aim at a comprehensive understanding of globalization.

It was with this in mind that they brought together politicians, civil servants, economists, academics, business executives, trade unionists, media people, civil society organizations and students. CIB-APARG had no hidden interests or agendas, no lobbies and no demands, said Ghandy, except a desire to enable India and other developing countries to maximize the opportunities and minimize the threats represented by globalization.

Prabhat Kumar, a former cabinet secretary who has served under four Indian prime ministers, put Indian perceptions of globalization into sharp focus. Did it demolish national barriers and create 'a stable world economic order'? Or did it 'accrue to only a few people' and widen economic disparities, threatening the sovereignty of national governments? It was essential to reconcile these divergent views of globalization--'to make the two parallel lines meet'. India's federations of small enterprises, for instance, which have seen many businesses going to the wall due to international competition, had never endorsed globalization. The need, Kumar said, was to manage globalization to the advantage of India's poor and vulnerable sectors.

Olivier Giscard d'Estaing, brother of the former French President, took a more benign view. He listed four major fears it evokes--insecurity due to conflicts, terrorism, and unemployment; US domination and excessive power of multinational corporations; cultural uniformity and a loss of local traditions; and increase in poverty and environmental pollution. But, he continued, we should not underestimate the achievements of the past century due to unprecedented movements of new technologies, goods, money and people.

ATTACK ON POVERTY

D'Estaing put forward four proposals: an attack on poverty at all levels; massive action on education and training with an emphasis on moral behaviour and individual responsibility; the preparation of people mentally to address new conditions of world citizenship; and the creation of new democratic structures, including a world parliament and world taxes, to deal with global problems.

Prithvi Raj Chavan, member of the upper house in Parliament, supported the Indian strategy of a gradualist globalization to protect the huge number of vulnerable Indians from the vagaries of market forces. India had accepted the World Trade Organization regime, reducing trade barriers. But, he said, 'the state has to intervene in the interests of the poor and the disadvantaged'.

It was the 'real live situations' of the farmers and rural poor, 80 per cent of the population, that most concerned Nripendra Mishra, government secretary responsible for the fertilizer industry. Mishra has dealt directly with the World Trade Organization over several years, but stressed that the same set of rules could not be applied to countries at different levels of development.

Agriculture contributes 25 per cent of India's GDP and employs over 56 per cent of the workforce, with nearly 70 per cent of the population depending on it. Yet, stressed Som Pal, it receives only 1.3 per cent of economic investment, at a time when European and American farmers received massive public subsidies. Meanwhile, as another speaker highlighted, drought and crop failures, loan sharks and international competition have been driving cotton farmers in Maharashtra and Punjab to suicide.

The most forceful presentation came from Bill Jordan, global trade union leader and member of the UK's House of Lords. He underlined the enormous power wielded by over 63,000 multinationals and their 800,000 foreign subsidiaries, which account for 80 per cent of world investments and 70 per cent of world trade. 'Well over half of all investment in the developing world goes to China,' he said. 'India's products are being undercut in trading competition by China because India's products carry the cost of decent wages won by independent unions, and India defends their right to organize and bargain collectively. China's prices are made possible with a massive regimented workforce and its state controlled trade unions, and where prison is the penalty for claiming the right to independently bargain for better wages.' India should argue for a level playing field with basic rights at the workplace, he said, 'because India has within its grasp the ingredients to win in fair trade competition'.

MANAGING CHANGE

'Globalization will not be stopped, much less reversed,' he said. 'But it can and must be changed. The greatest challenge of globalization is change-making it, managing it and accepting that it is going to be a continuous process.'

Like d'Estaing, Jordan advocated massive investment in education which 'sharpens the tools of change--flexibility and ideas. Education instills the confidence to change.' His punch line was: 'It is better to light one candle of leadership than to curse the darkness of globalization.'

And what of the special role of the CIB-APARG group, affiliated to the international body Initiatives of Change, in the processes of globalization? Both Sarosh Ghandy and Cornelio Sommaruga, Chairman of the Caux Foundation and former head of the International Red Cross, stressed the need to globalize integrity and responsibility. 'One person can make a difference,' Sommaruga said.

Rajmohan Gandhi, author and former MP, said there was a need to 'lower barriers in human hearts' to prevent the world from becoming an angrier place under globalization. Calling especially for closer relations between India and Africa, he said that a much better synergy between all sectors affected by globalization was possible--'if we can deepen our bonds between each other, and the synergy between ourselves and our higher selves, and the power that makes that possible'.

The last word probably belonged to Giscard d'Estaing. 'I have two convictions at the end of this conference,' he said. 'One, the European model of integration and reconstruction will not work everywhere. Each continent must develop its own model drawing from others. Two, India will succeed.'

Rahul Dev is a journalist, newscaster and former editor of the national Hindi newspaper, 'Jansatta.
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Author:Dev, Rahul
Publication:For A Change
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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