Africa Capitalism Free Trade

Notes & Comment

6 The Review of Religions – December 2003 Trading Partners International trade has a long history. From ancient times, the Silk Route and many other well worn trails enabled traders from different countries to do mutually beneficial business. Often, it was the ability to supply goods unavailable in the local markets that fuelled this trade. The Phoenicians of Lebanon were masters at trading across the Mediterranean as they ruled the seas. However, it was access to resources such as water, forests and metals that often led to disputes and wars between nations. Trade by definition was steeped in self- interest and politics, and throughout history, it was the stronger nations that prevailed and governed the rules of trade. War was always linked to trade, and it was not considered unusual for the winners to take the spoils. In the modern enlightened era, we claim to have free and open trade. We claim that trade is moral and ethical between democratic states. In reality, the same issues of vested interest are leading to dangerous conflicts and contention. A few recent examples highlight what is happening. Europe and the US have been consumer- l e d capitalist markets for years, and this has led to mounting price pressures. As a result, heavy engineering and production of vehicles, garments and other goods has moved off to cheaper workforces in Asia. Now we are seeing the service industry also taking the same step towards Asia as IT, call centre and administrative work heads towards India and China. This is not being accepted easily in Europe and the US where it is seen as fostering unemployment for financial gain. Moves are now underway to discourage this, and to impose penalties. In the US, some States have put legislation in place to prevent government administration work from being done by non-US nationals. Ironically, India itself has for a long time prevented many types of imports while and China has been relaxed on its population’s ability to misuse foreign intellectual property and is only now considering copyright issues. Notes and Comment 7The Review of Religions – January 2004 Another example is the trade levies imposed by countries such as the US on steel. Most industrial economies are trying to protect their key industries by imposing penalties on foreign importers and creating an unfair advantage. The European Union has been able to get over this hurdle only after it threatened similar levies on US imports. African exporters of foodstuffs have for a long time been bitter about the pathetic prices they receive for their goods as compared to the wealth generated out of the final products such as chocolate. In fact, throughout the Third World, it is common knowledge that major corporations have unscrupulously exploited child labour in order to create shareholder wealth for t h e m s e l v e s . The recent Gulf War on Iraq came at a time when the US and European economies were in decline. At the end of hostilities, most discussion was on who would win contracts to rebuild Iraq rather than the immediate requirements of the local population, and those who assisted in the War were given priority by the winner (the US) who protected its rights to the spoils. There is no easy answer in world trade. Every nation will look after own interests before it starts considering ethics or free trade. Self- interest is as alive and well as it always has been. It is but natural. The part that leaves a bitter after- taste is that the major powers try to hide behind freedom, democracy and good versus evil, whereas in fact, they mean that they have been able to protect their own financial interests. Religion provides a diff e r e n t solution. Islam acknowledges that there will always be those that are more or less successful and prosperous, but warns against creating too much polarisation in society which could lead to unrest. It promotes free trade, checks abuse, prohibits monopolies and requires transactions to be honest and contractual, in writing. It makes it a duty upon Muslims to share their wealth with those that ask, and those that are unable to ask. In this way, if this is practised properly, Muslims would be able to keep a balance in their societies. It is not a huge leap of the imagination to understand how such a philosophy could also help stabilise World Tr a d e . Tanveer Khokhar – UK Notes & Comment

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