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Op-ed: Globalization challenged — reclaiming the multilateral cooperation agenda


Paulo Buss*


Two years ago, the member states of the United Nations (UN) requested the Secretary-General of the organization to prepare a report on globalization and the Sustainable Development Goals, by believing that, although globalization could have contributed to some economic growth, it has certainly not fulfilled its promise to foster an equitable growth or a sustainable development in an universal scale. The UNS Secretariat response came in the form of the document Fulfilling the promise of globalization: advancing sustainable development in an interconnected world, appraised at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, held in September 2017, at the headquarters of the organization, in New York City.

It has been fifteen years since I wrote my first article on globalization and disease, in 2002, followed by a more complete one, in 2007, on globalization, poverty and health, published in Portuguese, English and Spanish, given the interest that the theme had aroused among healthcare professionals.

The phenomenon of globalization is not new, as it has been affecting people and societies for more than two centuries. The old globalization, represented by the colonialist expansion in Europe and sea trade among nations, had important economic and social consequences, both positive and negative, on the new territories, as well as on the European society itself. More recently, however, in the decades at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, we are faced with a new globalization, deep and fast, that covers now practically every aspect of human life.

For most authors, recent globalization is an economic, social and cultural process established in the last two or three decades of the 20th Century and the first decade of the 21st Century, whose main features include, on a scale never achieved before:
· growth in international trade of goods and services;
· transnationalization of mega companies;
· free movement of capital without any regulation;
. unprecedented concentration of income;
· privatization of the economy and minimization of the role of governments and nation-states;
· fall of protectionist trade barriers and regulation of international trade, according to the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO);
· ease of transit of people and goods among several countries of the world; 
· expansion of the possibilities of communication due to the emergence of the so-called information society and ease of contact among people due to the emergence of various instruments and tools, among which the Internet.

Several authors, commissions and organizations have been critical regarding that process. The brief 20th Century, a term coined by the historian Eric Hobsbawm to describe the recently completed century, brought, according to the admirable author, an extraordinary “revolution in transportation and communications, which virtually annulled time and distance”. This huge approach between so unequal cultures and economies makes “the globe to be now the basic operational unit, and older units, as national economies, defined by the policies of territorial States, to be reduced [only] to difficulties for transnational activities”.

Yet in 2004, the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization, established by the International Labour Organization, insisted that “the current globalization process is producing uneven results among countries and within them. It is creating wealth, but there are too many countries and people who are not having benefits [...]. Many of them live in the limbo of the informal economy, with no rights recognized and in poor countries, which subsist precariously and at the margins of the global economy. Even in countries with good economic results, many workers and communities have been harmed by the process of globalization”.

The Commission warned that “such global inequalities are unacceptable from the moral point of view and unsustainable from the political point of view”. And it insisted on “a lack of fairness in global rules on trade and finance matters and in the unequal impact it has on rich and poor countries", as in the "current international policies inability to respond to the challenges posed by globalization”.

The Lancet—University of Oslo Commission on Global Governance (2014), on which, with a great honor, I took part, attributes the origins of the political inequities in health existing in countries to the deep imbalances and inequalities existing in current global governance, one of the biggest legacies the unfair, exclusionary and ecoagressive globalization process existing in the contemporary world.

The report of the Secretary General submitted to AGNU 2017 lacks the forcefulness of the Commission's work of almost 15 years ago, nor it touches on the wounds pointed out in the Lancet Commission report. It simply records the current trends of globalization and interdependence, simplified into three megatrends: changes in production and labor markets, fast advances in technology and climate change, as well as its consequences for the promotion of a sustainable development. The report describes the political structures at national, regional and global levels that address the problems related to globalization and intends to detail the regulatory function of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations to respond to these problems. With that, it refers to the need for global institutional and regulatory milestones and multilateral inclusive, transparent and effective approaches in order to manage a process of globalization that will benefit all countries and not leave anyone behind (the mantra of the 2030 Agenda).

That is, in a time when it is already acknowledged that since the years 1990s the international political economy has been developing in hiperglobalization landmarks, which has generated a lot of progress, but also huge asymmetries, and that globalization without suitable governance and regulation mechanisms generates imbalances that make it untenable, the proposals in the document are generic and timid ones.

As Alicia Bárcenas, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) alerts, “the current context, marked by the weakening of multilateralism, the return of protectionism and the increase in extremist political movements, lowers the advances of such a global consensus [the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs], presents a serious challenge for global economy and puts at risk the achievement of the 17 SDGs”.

The challenge, therefore, would be to recover the agenda of multilateral cooperation which is today in a limbo among hiperglobalization, ultraneoliberalism and the emerging unilateralism and establish mechanisms of global governance and regulation of globalization – particularly as regards the regulation of the multifaceted performances of international financial capital – referring to a commitment to promoting equality and a sustainable development.

*Paulo Buss is the coordinator of the Fiocruz Global Health Center.

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