Back in 2004, when negotiations for the Washington-driven "Free Trade Area of the Americas" were heading for collapse, the Brazilian co-chair of the negotiations, Adhemar Bahadian, colorfully described the disillusionment that had set in. He compared the agreement to "a stripper in a cheap cabaret."
"At night under the dim lights, she is a goddess," he told the press. "But in the daytime she is something different. Maybe not even a woman."
Many countries have now gone through a similar process of disenchantment with the World Trade Organization (WTO), created in 1995 as a "multi-lateral" alternative to bilateral or regional agreements. From the beginning, the rules were stacked in favor of the rich countries. (More on this below). But in addition to the rules, the rich countries, led by the U.S., never got used to the idea that a multilateral institution was supposed to be for the benefit of everyone, including developing countries. They were too accustomed to the IMF [PDF] and the World Bank, which have been run by Washington and its rich country allies for more than six decades. The WTO, unlike the Fund and the Bank, was set up to operate by consensus, but some members have turned out to be a lot more equal than others.
The rich countries are making this clear once again as the U.S. and European Union try to ram through their choice of Director General, which will be decided on Tuesday. Pascal Lamy of France, a former European Trade Commissioner who represents the rich countries' point of view, will step down this year after two four-year terms. Now it is the developing countries' turn to have the position, and the final selection round (in a less-than-transparent process) has boiled down to Herminio Blanco of Mexico versus Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil. While this appears to be a contest between two Latin American candidates, it is clear to most of the world that Blanco is more of a candidate of the United States and its allies.
First, the government that he comes from, as the saying goes, is too "far from God, and so close to the United States." It is not just geography and economic integration but a shared neoliberal set of policies that binds Blanco to his northern neighbors. He is an architect of NAFTA, a treaty that wiped out hundreds of thousands of farmers in Mexico (by forcing them, ironically, to compete with subsidized crops) and kept the country on a development path that can only be described as a failed experiment.