Dr. Fraser- Point of View
June 18, 2004

Lessons on Banana

The Searchlight newspaper of last week had as its headline “UNFAIR- Prime Minister Criticizes World Trade System” According to Hawkins Nanton, the author of that particular piece, the Prime Minister stated that despite the talk of trade liberalization the system was very unfair. He went on to quote him to the effect that there was no crisis, since “ a crisis only arises when the principals are innocent of the extent of the condition and have no clear ideas as to the way out of the extant difficulties.” {{more}} Banana might have been the issue on this occasion but the banana issue reflects broader developments in trade liberalization, in what the Prime Minister referred to as the new God.
While we fight the banana issue, we need also to look beyond it for these developments are not only about bananas. I have always been of the view that trade liberalization was not going to play itself out in terms that would benefit us. Economists like to suggest that trade liberalization was in our best interest, based on the constructs of their discipline. But to what extent are what we call the Free Market and Free Trade really free? As a small developing country, we start at a disadvantage, for we are clearly not on a level playing field and probably will never be because the issues of power and interests, among others, become involved. Despite what we say, we are never going to be able to compete with the larger banana countries of Central America. The question of size, technology and social structure, works against us. If we accept the inevitability of free trade as some sort of social Darwinism product and the idea of the end of history that emerged with the collapse of East European Communism, then we cannot complain about the system being unfair. No appeal to the Social Democrats in Europe and the good people of Europe, whoever they might be, will change the built in defect in the system.
The Prime Minister’s view that there is no crisis, since a crisis only arises ‘when the principals are innocent of the extent of the condition and have no clear idea as to the way out of the extant difficulties,” is not clear to me for the principals could be clear about the way out, but what is needed might not necessarily be easily accomplished, nor accomplished at all and might even bring hardships in the process. The new global dispensation is one where every country is going to have to fight for itself, despite the rhetoric of the developed world. Even in the case of a south-south relationship there is no guarantee that our interests are going to coincide for the concept of ‘developing’ is a broad one indeed and hides a lot of inequalities and interests. But we need to take up some of the issues raised by the Prime Minister and move them beyond bananas while, at the same time, continuing to fight the banana struggle.
Globalisation is ultimately about the expansion of capital. It is rooted in a technological and scientific revolution that is reshaping the world. We have in this new scheme of things to rethink ideas about the nation and where the levels of control are. This is serious business but we are too focused on a world that no longer exists. As we fight our political battles and as we move closer and closer toward the next general election we move back increasingly, to a cult of personalities. There are no fundamental differences between the parties so personality becomes a key factor. In fact it goes further than this because it is back to the question of party leaders. The other personalities are minor figures that are brought in as fractions into the equation.
Beyond this are matters of extreme importance that we continue to neglect. One of these has to do with the capacity of our governments to deliver in this new dispensation. Failure to begin to address this will mean that we will move even more rapidly from one party to another, expecting some miracle to happen in the process.
We have to ask ourselves, too, what kind of leadership is needed in this new era. What is expected of us? What is going to be our relationship with the leadership and what do we as a society have to do to survive in this very complex world? The reality of e-business and the fact that you can transact business on the Internet as easily and in many cases cheaper than you had been doing it on the ground before, are only two examples of the changes taking place before our very eyes. Developments in telecommunications are drawing us nearer and nearer to our people in the diaspora. How do we use this to our advantage? The internet makes it possible and easy to extend the dialogue, but what is it all about, what do we hope to get out of it? Shouldn’t this factor into our thinking? There are some challenges in the process. Our nearness to North America also means that our expectations become heightened and often at odds with our ability to deliver.
My major concern is that we pay lip service to these issues. Could we not develop some medium to begin to reflect on these issues without being overly concerned about an individual being NDP or ULP or whatever other P there might be? It is true that survival is a basic instinct and that persons would first concern themselves with matters that immediately threaten their ability to survive. So here is where politics comes into the picture and it is real. But it is equally real that matters on the ground that impact on all of us are in someway increasingly related to external forces but we hardly ever bother to make the connection. Recently there have been some stirrings about the Caribbean Single Market and Economy but these disappear as quickly as they appear. The fact is that today it might be bananas but tomorrow it might be something else, affected by the same controlling principles. The banana problems are not only for banana farmers. They are for the whole society and transcend bananas.
In the final analysis we are involved in charting our way through an increasingly complex world where power, greed and self- interest are masked in a philosophy that really defines itself as part of the natural order of things. We all have to be involved in the process, the political directorate to create the framework and provide the space, intellectual workers to help us to understand the nature of the beast, our business and labour interests, our professionals, to bring their experience and knowledge to the dialogue, helping to draft the parameters and ensuring that the players stay focused. Obviously we cannot do so in isolation. We have to dialogue with those other forces outside, but not to expect them to support our positions based simply on the goodness of their hearts. For those in the south we have to find points at which our interests coincide and work from there. We have ultimately to define the nature of the playing field.