Globalizing the islands: The impact of APEC

Umi Perkins

In 1837, the Hawaiian scholar David Malo said “large fishes will come from the dark ocean ... they will eat us up, such has always been the case with large countries, the small ones have been gobbled up.” Malo was referring to the colonialism taking place at that time, as well as Hawaiʻi’s emerging, perhaps subordinate, place in a new world.

Today, what some refer to as neocolonialism, a new colonialism led by corporate interests rather than states, is proving difficult to resist. This new colonialism is linked to the process of globalization—a multi-faceted process of increased inter-connectivity of the world’s economies and communications, with greater flows of capital, people, and ideas across national boundaries.

Globalization is not entirely new. This is a new phase in an ongoing process. But this phase is based on an ideology called Neoliberalism, and is driven mainly by the needs of trade and investment. Neoliberalism is ostensibly a return to the “pure” doctrines of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, in which free markets, not protectionism—the shielding, through tariffs, of domestic industries from international competition—determine the course of economic development.

Viewed more closely, however, the globalist agenda appears more focused on corporate and investor interests than on those of an abstract “market.” As Clinton administration official Joan Spiro put it: “One role [of government] is to get out of the way—to remove barriers to the free flow of goods, services and capital.” The fact that this is coming from a Democratic official shows the extent of the consensus on globalization across party lines.

APEC provides an opportune moment for us to reflect on the role that local people and Native Hawaiians could have in Hawaiʻi’s future economic development.

The upcoming meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation provides an opportune moment for us to reflect on the role that local people and Native Hawaiians could have in Hawaiʻi’s future economic development.

Proponents for globalization claim that by increasing international trade, it promotes diversity and multiculturalism, benefiting the third world by raising living standards and promoting democracy. According to University of Hawaiʻi professor of global politics Manfred Steger, globalization advocates also make the following claims: a) that it is about the liberalization and integration of markets, b) that it is inevitable and irreversible, c) that nobody is in charge of globalization, d) that it benefits everyone, and e) that globalization spreads democracy.

I examine these claims to see whether they stand up to scrutiny. Howard Wirada, a fairly conservative scholar on the topic, notes that there are a number of losers in the process of globalization. These include Indigenous peoples, traditional cultures, small farmers, small shopkeepers, older workers, unionized workers, third world workers, the poorest countries, and the environment. The fact that these groups add up to at least 80 percent (if not 90 percent) of the global population, casts some doubt on the claims that globalization benefits everyone, benefits the third world, and that it generally raises living standards. With the state of the global environment being what it is, with nearly every major natural system either in decline and no systems improving, claiming that a process that harms the environment is beneficial defies all logic.

Globalization certainly does benefit elites in all but the very poorest countries (many of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa). The unprecedented levels of inequality are evidence of this, both internationally and in the United States. Consider that of the top 100 economies, 51 are corporations. Out of the nearly seven billion people on earth, two billion people live on less than two dollars per day, and one billion people live on less than one dollar per day.

Advocates claim that globalization benefits the poor when it brings people out of “extreme poverty” by raising their income above $1.25 per day. In 2001, the assets of the top three billionaires was greater than that of the poorest 49 countries. One in six Americans, and over 20 percent of children, lives in poverty (which is set by the federal government at slightly more than $22,000 per year for a family of four). And finally, the top one percent in America has more wealth than the bottom 95 percent. Recent figures show that the top one percent now controls 40 percent of U.S. wealth, up from 38 percent in the late 1990s. These global and domestic inequalities, nearly incomprehensible in the 1990s, have only widened in the new century as globalization has progressed.

So how does this agenda concur or conflict with Hawaiian cultural norms? The Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau had this to say of capitalism:

“[Hawaiians] have abandoned the works of the ancestors and have become lazy and make a living peddling, a practice despised by the ancestors, who used to say ʻChild of a peddler! (Keiki a ka maʻauʻauwa!) Wife of a peddler! Food of a peddler! Fish of a peddler!’ It was a slanderous occupation; it was as bad as being a red-eyed outcast, kauwa makawela ... Peddlers were not allowed in the houses of the chiefs; they could not eat with them. A peddler was a defiled person, kanaka haumia, in ancient times.”

In Hawaiian culture, the act of giving, rather than possessing, demonstrates mana. This is one of the reasons early Hawaiian chiefs may have given land to foreigners. It conflicts with Western norms directly, in which accumlation and possession are the signs of status. As professor Lilikala Kameʻeleihiwa states, “Hawaiians were not culturally predisposed to capitalism.”

“Hawaiians were not culturally predisposed to capitalism.”

But opposition to globalization is not, by any means, limited to Hawaiians, the third world, or native peoples. Opponents to the globalist agenda exist on both the left and right of the political spectrum. On the left, individuals like Ralph Nader and organizations like the International Forum on Globalization and the Third World Network are aligned against neoliberal globalization. Nader’s view is that:

“Globalization’s tactic is to eliminate democratic decision-making and accountability over matters as intimate as the safety of food, pharmaceuticals and motor vehicles, or the way a country may use or conserve its land, water and minerals ... this type of globalization is a low-intensity war waged to redefine free society as subordinate to the dictates of international trade—i.e., big business über alles.”

On the right, Patrick Buchannan, and various organizations such as the John Birch Society, oppose the ideology of globalism from a nationalistic perspective. Buchannan holds that:

“It is time Americans took their country back ... from the global parasites of the World Bank and the IMF who siphon off America’s wealth for Third World socialists and incompetents.”

Nader, by contrast, could be described as an internationalist-egalitarian, who opposes the loss of American jobs not because they go to foreign workers, but because workers living in sub-standard conditions replace them. Internationally, Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, is difficult to categorize along the left-right spectrum, but holds that “savage neoliberalism [is] unleashed on the [global] South by Northern globalist forces.” Chavez mounts a considerable challenge to the globalist consensus from a position of power as a major producer of oil. Hosting a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Chavez charged that “for a century, [Northern countries] took millions of barrels of oil at giveaway prices. How nice it would be if they also lowered the prices of computers, medicine, and cars and the interest rates on foreign debt.”

The opposition to globalization was probably most visible at the so-called Battle of Seattle. In December 1999, between 40,000 and 50,000 people protested the meeting of World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle. Protesters were diverse and included labor, environmentalists, third world activists, animal rights activists, and even Buchannanites. But most of the media attention was given to approximately 200 anarchists, who (selectively) smashed windows and vandalized property. There were 300 beatings, 600 arrests, and limits to protests that violated a supreme court ruling that required protest be in proximity to that which was being protested against.

Four years later, the World Trade Organization held its meeting in the Arabian peninsula country of Qatar. Kenneth Roth, from Human Rights Watch stated:

“Holding this meeting in Qatar would shut down any possibility of peaceful protest. The WTO can’t avoid public protests by holding a meeting in a country that doesn’t allow public protest. That sends the signal that it’s OK to build the global economy on a foundation of oppression.”

APEC is the regional equivalent of the WTO.

APEC is the regional equivalent of the WTO. A major area of concern for activists is the negotiation of a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Nine APEC countries, but not the full 21 members, are in negotiations over this trade treaty. The nine countries are the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Peru, Malaysia, Chile, and Brunei. China and Japan are currently considering signing the TPPA.

New Zealand leftist scholar Jane Kelsey has called the TPPA “a bill of rights for big corporations ... designed in secret and shackles future governments and our democratic right to decide future policy and laws.”

American economist Joseph Stiglitz notes that “most of these ʻfree trade’ agreements are ... managed for the advantage of the United States, which has the bulk of the negotiating power.”

So is it possible to resist this seemingly inevitable tide of globalization? The answer is yes: it has been done before. The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) was defeated by a small coalition of third world countries and international activists. The MAI would have required nations to eliminate regulations that violated MAI provisions—either immediately or over a set period of time (and to refrain from passing any such laws in the future.) It would enable compensation to corporations for proven unfair or discriminatory investment conditions causing loss of profit. While this is good news for those in favor of localization, the little-discussed alternative to globalization, the TPPA has been described as “MAI on steroids,” as it would go even further in the granting of rights to corporate interests.

From November 9 through 11, a group of activists will be meeting in a counter-conference called Moana Nui. Notable scholars and activists such as Walden Bello from the Philippines, Jane Kelsey from New Zealand, and Lori Wallach of Public Citizen along with cultural practitioners from across the Pacific will discuss alternatives to corporate-led globalization. Such alternatives are sorely needed if we are to avoid being “gobbled up” by the corporate globalization.

For information on Moana Nui, visit