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Louise Blouin MacBain: Security for Rich & Poor

MacBainFrom the forthcoming Summer 2008 issue of World Policy Journal. Many of you are presently suffering from sharp increases in food prices. The main cause of this increase is here to stay since it results from structural changes in the demand for farm products. Reducing farm subsidies and tariffs should help create more room for your own farmers to export thus helping raise their revenues. It should also ensure a better connection between supply and demand. If anyone still wonders why agricultural subsidies and production systems need reform and why this is crucial for Africa, just look in the news everyday! —World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy, addressing the African Union Conference of Trade and Finance Ministers, April 3, 2008 In mid-July 2008, trade representatives from World Trade Organization (WTO) member states began meeting in Geneva in an attempt to make a breakthrough towards completing what has been seven years of negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda. There had been political commentary on Doha that was skeptical about the success of the agreement; Barack Obama’s economic policy advisor, Jason Furman, for example, has told the media that it is impossible for the candidate to have an opinion on an agreement “that doesn’t exist.” Still, there is a growing consensus among trade representatives such as Peter Mandelson of the European Commission and Susan Schwab, the U.S. Trade Representative, suggesting that while many complex steps still need to be taken in order to complete Doha, a deal in 2008 must be made. Indeed, the need is critical and immediate, not only to help alleviate the pressure brought on by the spike in global commodities—oil and foodstuffs—and lift African economies out of poverty, but also as a symbol that nations can work together to address global issues. The fundamental purpose of Doha was not just to create clearer and fairer conditions of global trade, but also to open up new opportunities for growth and development in the world’s most impoverished areas. In turn, millions would be lifted from poverty. Inextricably linked to Doha’s goal of alleviating poverty was the strong desire among WTO members to issue a global response to what were perceived as the imbalances between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, that have been key drivers of terrorism and global conflict. Doha, while idealistic in its goal, set out in 2001 to develop a new platform for global cooperation that would depart from traditional aid and development programs. These have tended to see money simply flowing from rich to poor nations—if at all—usually with strings attached. Instead, this new platform has sought, by liberalizing trade barriers across the globe, to allow impoverished nations a vehicle to develop their own independent economies and stand on their own feet. Doha had, and continues to have, the profound ambition of restoring dignity to the world’s impoverished. Moreover, any Doha trade liberalization also stands to benefit rich nations such as the United States and those that comprise the EU, who are now more than ever relying on exports to maintain economic dynamism and growth.

Vladimir Kvint: Russia Looks to 2020

Vladimir KvintAfter the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its disappearance from the political map of the world, the Russian central planning system was abolished. It was an inevitable and positive result of 70 years of brutal dictatorship. However, the complete destruction of a planning system was one of many mistakes made during the transition from a centralized system to a free market economy. Until 2008, the Russian government did not have a long-term plan or vision. Learning from the Soviet experience, other countries like France, Italy and Germany have used planning systems in their national policies with varying levels of success. Planning systems have also been developed in several emerging market countries. At the beginning of the 1990s, when I worked at Arthur Andersen, I participated in the analysis of Malaysia's 2020 strategic plan. Seventeen years later, a program with the same horizon is being developed in Russia. Here is my take on it.

Belinda Cooper: Obama in Berlin

Belinda CooperBERLIN, GERMANY—Barack Obama has come and gone, but excitement remains, along with sober analysis. Obama was again on the front of every newspaper the day after his appearance, and most of the coverage and photos were flattering. (In a recent New York Times op-ed, Susan Neiman refers to Spiegel Magazine’s sardonic cover, but Spiegel is always sardonic and condescending, about everyone; it’s hardly representative.)German newspapers in Berlin. The day of the speech, people were already making their way to the Siegessäule hours before Obama was scheduled to take the stage. The crowd was international and ethnically mixed, and largely young. The mood was not so much passionate as curious. One longtime American resident of Berlin called it an anti-Bush demonstration of a sort (though with many people waving American flags) I asked an Eritrean friend I met on the way, who’s lived in Berlin for years and is now a German citizen, what people were saying about Obama. He told me everyone likes him, but they don’t believe Americans will actually elect him. That is, indeed, a concern; many people have asked me whether I really think he has a chance. Obama’s speech touched on many of the points Germans, especially younger people, are most interested in, but he also alluded to some issues they are not excited about. Back where I was standing, there was little applause for his call for more German troops in Afghanistan or his praise for NATO. To me, his rhetoric about the Cold War and the airlift came across as clichéd and somewhat condescending, but not everyone saw it that way; the airlift still means something to Berliners, particularly older ones. He received a great deal of applause when he spoke of Darfur, several times, and Zimbabwe; of ending the Iraq war and eliminating nuclear weapons; of climate and the environment; and of breaking down barriers between races and religions. Still, Obama’s rhetoric is American, for example in its tendency towards what one commentator called “light and darkness metaphors,” and sounds strange to German ears. One young woman I spoke to afterwards found the speech superficial (“bullshit” was one of her adjectives). And others have made the same arguments as Roger Cohen in the New York Times—that it was abstract and feel-good. The staging of an American campaign is equally alien. In a poll by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the day of his appearance, a majority of respondents nationally felt either that too much fuss was being made, that Obama was using Berlin for his campaign, or that European expectations of him were too high. Most people seemed quite aware that the speech was, in fact, aimed more at the U.S. then at Germany. But many commentators, as well as listeners, found substance in the speech nevertheless. Obama’s admission that the U.S. has made mistakes, for example, and his acknowledgment that many Europeans see the U.S. as a cause of the world’s problems, meant a great deal.

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