Globalization finds fewer backers in RP

By Felipe F. Salvosa, II
Published on the April 27, 2007 issue of BusinessWorld

The Philippines is among three countries with the greatest skepticism on globalization and international trade, a global opinion poll found, with only about half of Filipinos having positive attitudes as against a wider majority in other countries.

The survey of nearly 23,000 respondents in 18 countries, commissioned by an American think-tank, found that a majority of people support economic globalization and freer trade. Respondents, however, said liberalization should come with stricter environmental and labor laws.

“Majorities around the world believe economic globalization and international trade benefit national economies, companies, and consumers. But many think trade harms the environment and threatens jobs and want to mitigate these effects with environmental and labor standards,” the report released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org said.

The section on the Philippines said “Filipinos tend to think globalization is good for their country, though they are among the most skeptical of the publics polled.”

“The Philippine public also divides over whether their government should comply with World Trade Organization rulings,” the report said.

The Social Weather Stations (SWS), among the polling firms commissioned for the global survey, found that although only half of Filipinos think globalization is good, positive attitudes outnumbered negative ones by a margin of 49% to 32%. A fifth of respondents in the SWS survey declined to answer.

Majority of the Filipino respondents, or 55%, think “minimum standards for working conditions” should be part of trade agreements, while 30% believe they should not be required. They were almost equally divided on whether as a general rule, the Philippines should comply with adverse decisions made by the World Trade Organization (WTO): 48% believed the country should and 49% believed otherwise.

The SWS interviewed 1,200 respondents nationwide in the September 24 to November 29, 2006 poll, which had a 2.9% margin of error.

Aside from the Philippines, the “greatest skepticism” about globalization was in Mexico (41% good, 22% bad), and Russia (41% good, 24% bad). In the United States, the report said, 60% thought globalization is mostly good while 35% called it mostly bad.

Rene Ofreneo, executive director of the Fair Trade Alliance, noted that the Philippines, Mexico, and Russia share negative experiences in economic liberalization, resulting in wide public dissatisfaction over policies toward globalization.

The Philippines was the fastest in the region in bringing down tariffs, leading to the decline of many domestic industries which could not withstand competition.

“We are an aggressive liberalizer but look at where we are now,” Mr. Ofreneo said. “Filipinos see it as hopeless.”

Mexico’s corn farmers are also suffering as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the US and Canada, he said, while the maquiladoras (free trade zones) provided only a temporary respite and were eventually beaten by China.

Russia, meanwhile, has been reeling from “shock therapy” imposed by multilateral financial institutions which had recommended a sudden shift to a liberalized economy after the collapse of communist rule, where state monopolies were transferred to oligarchs.

Trade lawyer Jeremy I. Gatdula, for his part, argued that Filipinos enjoy cheaper goods and luxuries such as mobile phones, computers, travel, and education because of globalization.

“It’s interesting that Filipinos register such skepticism when almost everything about a Filipino’s way of life came about due to globalization,” he told BusinessWorld.

Political leaders, he said, are also to blame for the skepticism by using globalization as a scapegoat rather than reforming policies that favor well-entrenched domestic business interests.

The global survey showed that dissent to globalization was strongest in France, with 42% believing that trade liberalization and economic integration had been “mostly bad.”

The highest levels of support for globalization were found in export-oriented economies such as China (87%), South Korea (86%) and Israel (82%).

The findings could “strengthen the political will” for liberalization in arenas like the WTO, said Christopher Whitney, executive director at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

There were more misgivings, however, about the environment with 66% of French respondents and 49% of both American and South Korean ones believing that trade harms the natural world.

Strong majorities in China and India agreed that trade agreements should include environmental protections.

Again, France led the way in expressing fears for trade’s impact on job security, followed by the United States.

The survey interviewed nearly 23,000 respondents in total, drawn from Argentina, Armenia, Australia, China, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Thailand, Ukraine and the United States, plus the Palestinian territories. — with a report from AFP

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