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Trade as if people matter

By Ammu Joseph

I undertook the daunting task of putting together this edition of Agenda, as well as the concurrent section on Trade & Development on the website of InfoChange News & Features, in the interest of my own continuing education.  I opted to view my ignorance about the subject as an advantage:  if I can understand the articles solicited from expert writers so, presumably, will most readers. 

I hope this collection of articles will help readers begin to understand how matters of trade – including international trade – impact so many aspects of life today.  The topics tackled here are by no means exhaustive but they provide a glimpse of the wide range of issues raised by recent trade-related developments.  The articles in this edition of Agenda form the nucleus of the online section on Trade & Development which, we hope, will continue to grow and develop over time. 

Some articles included here provide necessary background on the World Trade Organisation and recent developments around it, while others look at how the current international trade regime affects specific sections of society, particularly economically and socially disadvantaged individuals and communities.  A number of articles deal with the impact of trade-related policies and practices on agriculture, food security and livelihoods -- against the backdrop of the ongoing, under-reported crisis in agriculture, as well as the continuing spate of suicides by farmers that have been making news for some years.  Striking a positive note, one of these describes the process through which poor rural communities, led by women, have managed to insulate themselves from the vagaries of a trade-led agricultural economy by returning to traditional crops, reclaiming sovereignty over seeds and thereby achieving a measure of self-sufficiency in food and livelihoods. 

Several articles explore current controversies relating to the Special Economic Zones being set up in different parts of the country in the name of trade.  Two pieces present different perspectives on the relationship between trade and the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, while two others focus attention on how trade can exacerbate the deprivation experienced by women and children from marginalised communities.  Also included is a review of a recent publication that argues for trade on human terms.  And, finally, excerpts from a longer paper highlight the implications of the WTO’s attempts to promote free trade in audio-visual services, especially programmes broadcast through audio-visual media.

The articles reflect fairly diverse opinions on admittedly contentious issues.  This is in keeping with the basic purpose of the exercise:  to provide information and ideas to enable readers to understand the connections between trade and many current events and issues, and to make sense of trade-related news and debates.  The only bias – if it can be called that – is in favour of a bottom-up view of a subject that is otherwise generally looked at from the viewpoint of the movers and shakers of international politics and economics.
 
(Ammu Joseph is an independent journalist and media-watcher based in Bangalore, India. Her publications include five books: Whose News?  The Media and Women's Issues, Making News:  Women in Journalism, Terror Counter-Terror:  Women Speak Out, Storylines:  Conversations with Women Writers and Just Between Us:  Women Speak about their Writing.) 

InfoChange News & Features, February 2007