Internationalism and localisation - not globalisation
  Oxfam has attacked leading opponents of economic globalisation as "globo-phobes" and "anti-traders". The Green Party's Matthew Wootton responds from the Johannesburg Earth Summit.

The Green Party, and other proponents of "localisation" such as Colin Hines and Vandana Shiva, are certainly not "anti-trade". But Oxfam seems to be trying to manufacture a myth of "globo-phobes" and "anti-traders" - terms new and surprising to people in the anti-globalisation movement.

The Greens recognise that Oxfam's Make Trade Fair initiative is an important landmark campaign. It marks a breakthrough in being direct enough to recognise the bare foundation of international relations: that ownership is power, and that, therefore, it is trade above all that must be addressed in order to empower people.

It is futile however to call people "anti-trade", because the debate is so obviously about the terms of trade, not the fact of trade itself.

When Brazil exports agricultural crops the benefits largely bypass the poor. But in Uganda and Vietnam, where smallholder production dominates, agricultural export growth in the 1990s contributed to rapid rural poverty reduction.

Greens obviously favour the second model, which is in fact a model of localisation because it empowers smaller, local groups of people over multinational corporations. Why would Greens argue against Fair Trade just because it happens to be international?

We would never argue against Fair Trade in itself, which is indeed, by an accurate definition, fair: our critique of international trade is that 99.7% of it is patently Unfair. Furthermore, appealing to consumers’ better natures to pay more for Oxfam’s Fair Trade products is not enough to make the poor rich: at Kuapa Kookoo, the Ghanaian plantation where Oxfam sources its cocoa, only 30% of their cocoa can be sold at Fair Trade prices. The rest has to be sold to other companies who will only take it at exploitative prices. Fair Trade only accounts for something like 0.3% of world trade, and well-meaning Oxfam supporters (such as ourselves) will never be able to eat enough chocolate to make a difference to poverty without changing the multilateral trading rules…. The measure of success, as Oxfam surely recognises, is having small producers, not big multinationals. That’s localisation!

Localisation is not about having no international trade - obviously, we’d still get our (Fair Trade) chocolate from Ghana or another Fair Trade source. Localisation is about local production for local need where practicable - including people growing their own staples, as close to their own control as necessary for the maintenance of their comprehensive human rights.

And such localisation will obviously only happen at the same rate that globalisation is reversed: we’re not talking about closing all borders off tomorrow and imposing hard-and-fast rules such as Thou Shalt Not Export. Localisation is about moving economies onto a sustainable footing, and the first step is to re-localise the production of staples, both North and South. That way, the South will not have to be exploited by the North when we want carrots, and exploited again when buying corn with the money that they got from selling us the carrots! When we localise a globalised food distribution system and assist the poor to achieve their own independence, then they will no longer need to try and flog us their food, because they’ll be able to afford to keep it to eat themselves.

Oxfam should be joining us in promoting this approach to food sovereignty, which it has always championed in the past; not promoting an export-based, market-driven model of food as a commodity.

Oxfam seems to have misinterpreted the idea of localisation as an absolutist, strait-jacketing, prescriptive, hierarchical structure to be imposed formulaically upon the poor. The mistake is perhaps understandable given that that is indeed what localisation’s opposite, globalisation, is all about. But localisation instead gives back into the hands of ordinary people the economic means to realise their own rights that globalisation has taken away. It is diversity, not uniformity. It is not, therefore, a prescriptive power structure in itself. It merely empowers, potentially, each individual. Localisation is not a policy blueprint: it is a paradigm. As Vandana Shiva comments:

"[The paradigm of localisation] contextualises and embeds trade in more fundamental policies based on people's rights, democratic participation, and ecological sustainability. The [opposite paradigm of neo-liberalism] dismantles democracy, sovereignty and sustainability as 'trade barriers', puts trade above other policy instruments. In disembedding trade from its social and ecological context, it dismembers society and disintegrates ecosystems. It creates poverty by destroying the fabric of economic and ecological security."

As a localist, Vandana Shiva would point out that it is not local people trading with richer countries per se that is necessarily the problem: it’s being forced to trade with richer countries, whether they like it or not, just in order to eat, that is the problem. Localisation is not protectionist in the sense that it keeps all other trade out and/or prevents international trade. It merely allows for the democratic provision of local needs - food sovereignty - to be addressed first, and is therefore the opposite to globalisation in the sense that globalisation constantly strives towards turning more and more land, food and labour into commodities, into moving money in more and more circuitous routes all around the world, strives towards more and more international trade, towards more and more competition between countries, more and more monopolisation by companies, ever-lower prices, ever-lower wages, ever-lower environmental standards… a race-to-the-bottom.

Oxfam is perfectly entitled to argue for more market access for cocoa and coffee, (as long as the trade it is encouraging is Fair Trade). The problem is that most trade isn’t Fair Trade, and to ask for more of the problem before changing the terms isn’t going to help. The way to change the terms is not for the poor to produce more, it’s for what they produce to make them richer, not for it to be added to a food mountain on the international market. People who are poor need to be allowed to produce food for their own local needs, because international markets have always tended to serve the rich, not the poor.

Oxfam cannot possibly be fundamentally opposed to the aims of localisation - otherwise it would be putting itself in opposition to all the human rights for which it argues. The disagreement appears to come from its emphasis on export-driven rather than local production, which presumably favours the rhetoric of export-orientated "market access" because that is what Northern governments want to hear from them. This possibility of Oxfam compromising its integrity for a short-term campaigning goal is the only danger we face.

We hope Oxfam will soon feel confident enough to desist from vilifying localists, and realise that the latter are not mere obstructionist "globo-phobes" - but are actively and constructively proposing ways to reach exactly the same outcomes as Oxfam. Indeed, the most ardent proponents of localisation, including the Green Party, are equally ardent internationalists.

Matt Wootton is Campaigns Coordinator fo Wales Green Party/Plaid Werdd Cymru and a member of the Campaigns Committee of the Green Party of England & Wales.