Your editorial cites India and China as countries which have gradually opened their economies to international competition (Guardian opinion on WTO negotiations: poor countries cannot stay poor, November 29). This has been the path to development for just about every country.
Japan’s post-World War II economic miracle was based on protecting its economy with quotas and import tariffs, and directing investments to industries such as motor vehicles and electronics for their allow it to develop, sheltered from competition. It was only when these industries were strong that their companies were allowed to enter international markets. Other Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan have followed suit.
The siren cry of rich countries is for less developed countries to open up their economies – this is not the path of development but of continued exploitation. They should follow the lead of the first industrial nation, Britain, which strongly controlled trade, prices, and investment until the mid-19th century. It is only after building strong industries that countries can safely open up to international competition.
Your editorial says, “Perhaps it would be better if developing countries avoided imports and used state power to stimulate local production instead – thus avoiding the need for external financing. It could be done, but it isn’t. The poorest people in the poorest countries of the world have become poorer, rather than better, over the past 25 years. The global numbers are grossly skewed by the huge changes that have taken place in China’s economic performance, not the poor rest of the world. And at the national level, the data is that produced by the World Bank and the IMF, measuring what is measurable in monetary returns for the financial community.
There is not one common economic engine that is igniting the whole world. What pushes China doesn’t push UK, and what drives UK doesn’t push Malawi. Some poor countries still depend on exports. Under current rules, Malawi must grow more and more tobacco to earn foreign exchange. But hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants live below the poverty line. He can’t give them the priority they need to survive.
Our policies impoverish the poor world and prevent its people from moving out of poverty. It is not capitalism; they are power imbalances.
Malawi at the base