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Trade off

2 July 2005

Over 225,000 people are wending their ways from the Meadows in Edinburgh, and the air is filled with the detritus of international financial demands. Billy Bragg has just sung the Internacionale (looking rather sheepish as he sang, “Respect makes empires fall,” and perhaps ruing his decision to back Oona King in Bethnal Green.

“Who on earth would you find who wouldn’t want to lift a million people out of poverty?” a senior insider from Make Poverty History asked me today. Well, no one. But who would you find who wouldn’t want the trains to run on time, or wouldn’t want their children to be healthy. If that sounds bloody minded, I mean to suggest that, if you make your demands too broad and wondrously altruistic, eliding details with cuddliness, you end up like Pete Doherty in a hermitage – completely without substance.

The word coming from the sherpers frantic negotiations is that the deal on trade will be “zero out of ten”. There is still haggling to be had on aid and debt conditionalities. The UK is briefing against the US and Germany – the former insisting that aid be a quid pro quo, with palpable benefits for US manufacturers. That means that if you want to spend your aid cash on HIV testing strips, you ain’t getting any of that cheap generic nonsense, pal, you’re off to a major drugs company, probably one with an overwhelming monopoly. Feliciano Santos, by day the head of the Estamos public health NGO in Mozambique, by night the rhythm guitarist with Massukos, set me straight on that little nicety of economic diplomacy. “If you were hungry, would I be the one to decide your destiny? We can die without your money, but if you give it, it is for our leaders to decide how it is to be spent.”

The broadness of MPH’s goals, and the fact that it only considers those goals attainable through the G8, may have the effect of allowing the Group to tighten its grip on the poor. Sure, the vocabulary of the communiqué will be hip with the kids. But, even within tight semantic parameters, the corporate hegemony of the West and Japan will be underlined – it’ll just be harder to spot. After all, we’re talking about the kingpins of high marketing. If Cat can co-opt rebellion and Nike can second black rights to its cause, surely the G8 has the nouse to squeeze the Third World a little harder and make it sound like a whoop of “We’re loving it.”

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