Trading for sustainability

The Green MEP for South West England examines why public confidence in ever-expanding world trade is evaporating and a how Green policies could bring about sustainability and global solidarity

Molly Scott Cato
Tue 24 Jan 2017

There are many ways in which 2016 was a year of change, but perhaps one of the most far-reaching was the way the received wisdom about global trade was overturned. What became clear last year is that public confidence in the ever-expanding system of world trade has evaporated. This was an important part of the success of both the Brexit and Trump campaigns, which fuelled and then fed o the idea that globalisation is destroying communities and livelihoods.

As Greens, we have long shared a scepticism about the consequences of globalisation and we should have the confidence to speak to communities who feel that they are being left behind by these massive global changes. But of course our prescription is utterly different from that of the narrow- minded and self-centred far-right politicians. The focus on globalisation and its discontents is an important opportunity to share the message of green politics that we should take advantage of.

A green critique of change has two main starting points: first, we question whether energy invested in moving things around actually achieves anything in terms of human welfare; secondly, we are deeply concerned about the concentration of power in the hands of a small number of transnational corporations.

Green proposals for localisation have grown out of our concern to always use energy wisely. But they also offer the opportunity to create high-quality jobs and to rebuild local communities, bound together by the production and exchange of goods and services. This aspect of community life, and the identity it reinforces, is decimated by the import of cheap Chinese goods and the eBay economy.

But strengthening local economies is not enough; we also need global cooperation to counter corporate power. In my role as an MEP, I work to ensure that corporations have to report their earnings according to the country where they are earned, something that is essential to ensure that they pay sufficient taxes. This can only be achieved beyond national boundaries since it is by offshoring profits that corporations avoid their tax liabilities. But we also need to create structures at the global level to enforce rules on corporations, such as a corporate human rights charter with its own global court.

What about the global perspective: would localisation undermine the ability of trade to make poverty history??The evidence that trade works for the world's poor is not encouraging. Data from the UN trade body UNCTAD make clear that trade has increased inequality both within and between countries. In the first decade of this century, for every additional US$100 dollars generated by global trade, only 70 cents went to the poorest 20 per cent of the world's population. The overwhelming bulk of such additional earnings accrue to the shareholders of the global corporations who control the trade.

Greens have been raising questions about globalisation and?trade since our party was founded. Now is the time to o er our policies balancing the benefits of localisation with the advantages of a socially-constrained globalisation and a trade system based on sustainability and global solidarity.

As is so often the case with green victories, the death of TTIP starting at the end of 2016 has been underplayed by the media, but we should remember to celebrate this major victory for ordinary people against corporate power. A Swedish colleague of mine recently met with Commissioner Malmstrom, who is responsible for EU trade treaties. She told him that while TTIP may not be dead, it is 'pining for the fjords', so I doubt we will hear much more from that direction. On the other hand, CETA, the trade deal between the EU and Canada, also includes the anti-democratic provision of private corporate courts and also made news headlines in 2016. With powerful forces in support of the treaty, I will be returning to Strasbourg to vote against it this year.