World Social Forum - Porto Alegre, Brazil, 25-30 January, 2001


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FINANCE: NGOs to Oppose World Economic Forum

By Gumisai Mutume

WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (IPS) ¡ This week's annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland will be the centre of attention of non-governmental groups opposed to the negative consequences of globalisation on the majority of the world's population.

Every year in the Swiss resort town of Davos, an exclusive club of chief executives of the world's largest and most influential transnational corporations meets with academics and political leaders to chart the global economic agenda.

This year, non-governmental organisations will be holding their own ''social fora'' alongside the main event.

Militant anti-globalisation groups are also threatening to shut down the Jan. 25-30 meeting of the 'capitalist club' with street protests.

Over the years, the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) has become the world's global business summit. This year 1,000 top business leaders, 750 political leaders, academics and media moguls plus a sprinkling of invited NGO representatives are expected to attend.

''The WEF is a meeting primarily of corporate elites,'' says Peter Bosshard of the Swiss non-governmental group, Berne Declaration. ''As private institutions, they have no legitimacy to set the global public agenda ... We feel there is need for an alternative voice to influence globalisation and monitor the actions of the transnational corporations.''

Since last year, a joint NGO project made up of the Berne Declaration, South American network Asociación Lationamericana de Organizaciones de Promoción and Friends of the Earth International and others have been building up towards Davos.

The NGO campaign, titled 'Public Eye on Davos' will bring activists and academics to Davos to explore questions such as what sort of global governance is desirable to ensure respect of human rights and environmental sustainability.

The NGOs say their conference will explore ways of regulating private companies and ''propose mechanisms by which citizens and democratic governments can regain control''.

The WEF says while it welcomes responsible voices on both sides of the globalisation debate it feels ''no obligation, however, to take these thoughtful discussions into the streets''.

''We will not engage in dialogue with individuals or groups that use violence and confrontation-tactics to attract media attention to themselves and their causes,'' notes WEF in a statement ahead of the conference.

Another concurrent NGO forum has also been scheduled, in Porto Alegre, Brazil and is known as the World Social Forum. A special interactive television programme will link corporate representatives in Davos with NGOs, unions and civic movements in Porto Alegre to discuss their different visions of globalisation.

''After protests in Seattle, Bangkok, Prague and, more recently, Nice, rather than letting the gap get wider, we believe there is a need for civilised public dialogue on the future of globalisation,'' notes the Bangok-based think-tank Focus on the Global South, one of the organisers of the Porto Alegre meet. The NGOs hope to use the televised event ''to create a platform for understanding''.

In Porto Alegre, Walden Bello of Focus on Global South, José Bové, the French farmer opposed to globalisation who shot to fame for attacking a McDonald's outlet, former Malian culture minister Aminata Traoré, and activist Joao Pedro Stedile of Peasants Without Land square up with UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan, John Brown of British Petroleum, Pascal Lamy of the Euro Commission and investor George Soros in Davos.

These meetings come at a time when ''the world economy has never been stronger'', notes WEF, yet the divide between the haves and have- nots appears intractable.

The World Bank forecast that this year the global economy will approach a cyclical high with global trade volumes likely to increase by the highest rate of growth since before the first oil shock of the 1970s.

But the distribution of these gains is extraordinarily unequal, the Bank stated in its World Development Report 2000/2001. The average income in the richest 20 countries is 37 times the average in the poorest 20 - a gap that has doubled in the past 40 years. Some 2.8 billion people - almost half the world's population - live on less than two dollars a day.

Movements opposed to the unfettered global expansion of private capital scored a major victory in 1999 when they influenced the failure of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Seattle. They have become a feature of every major global economic forum since then. In September they disrupted the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Prague, Czech Republic.

Bosshard, who emphasises that Public Eye on Davos has dissociated itself from violent protest says the movement against corporate globalisation has been partly successful.

''There are still no clear plans for a new round of negotiations at the WTO,'' says Bosshard. ''No country wants to host it.''

''On the other hand the international financial institutions are not yet ready for comprehensive policy changes.''

The WEF Annual Meeting will discuss new developments in information technology and biotechnology, the challenges facing business corporations under globalisation and the regional outlook in the US, Europe and Asia.

An entire panel discussion titled 'Meeting great expectations, 10 suggestions for the new American President' will assess the new Republican government of George W. Bush sworn in last weekend.

It is unlikely that Bush will make it to Davos but President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Fernando de la Rúa of Argentina, Andrés Pastrana of Colombia, Mexico's Vicente Fox and South Africa's Thabo Mbeki are expected to attend.

Regular attendees of the WEF include Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, investor Soros and Rolf Breuer of Deutche Bank. The last two years have seen appearances from former US president Bill Clinton and British prime minister Tony Blair.

''We're very proud of what we do at the World Economic Forum,'' WEF president Klaus Schwab says. ''And we intend to continue bringing the major stakeholders in society together to discuss the major issues affecting all of us.'' (END/IPS/IF/gm/da/01)

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