Values in the Economic Sphere of Global Relations

Global relations are increasingly determined and influenced by trade and investments or rather by economic relations between countries, known as Trade Diplomacy. For many who grew up during the Cold-War pre-globalization era, the images of businessmen and women in grey suits accompanying heads of state in official delegations during the early 1990s heralded a new era in global relations. The message was that with increasing connectivity, improved communications, trade flows, investments, liberalization of economic policies and newer markets, economic and trade relations between nation-states would play a significant role in global relations.

Hence it is appropriate to consider the notion of values in the realm of global economic and trade relations, and how they would affect future interactions between nations and societies.  Quite often the issue of values in global relations is articulated in the context of geopolitics or strategy, like non-interference in internal affairs or military intervention to settle disputes while ignoring the economic sphere of global relations.

Perhaps it is incumbent, given the significance of global relations in the economic and commercial sphere, to elucidate a vision of values and its modus operandi. What would it entail in terms of values governing global economic relations? This would be a shared sense of solidarity, humanism along with respect for cultural diversity, and identity of global citizenry without the sole accent on profits and returns on investment. Historically, economic and trade relations were driven by pursuit of gain which often translated as zero-sum win-lose games in the global arena. Here, apart from nation-states, global corporations are key actors in the sphere of global economic and trade relations. The values for the actors in this trading marketplace should be those of respecting cultural choices, freedom and diversity of the citizenry without erasure of identities, along with the shared spirit of solidarity and humanism.

Global corporations have been accused of imposing on global citizenry a homogenous cultural world or identity which has often been derided as macdonaldization, a term coined by George Ritzer in ‘The McDonaldization of Society’. Consumerism of the reckless variety actively promoted by global corporations in pursuit of new customers led to erasure of existing traditional identities and cultural values. Cultural diversity or identity differences were perceived by business elites as a hindrance towards free flow of investments and capital. Unfortunately this McDonaldization process has entailed replacing traditional identities and shared emotional thought with that of reason and efficiency, and has led to an acute sense of displacement and loss of traditional identity, cultural or ethnic. It has eroded the base of many societies leading to disgruntled fundamentalism. Excessive rationalization has led to society becoming an iron cage as predicted by Max Weber with profound dehumanizing effects. We are witnessing the dire consequences of this displacement in the form of belligerent electoral politics in the Western world in the form of far-right antagonism and anti-establishment parties and we are not immune from this phenomenon.

Conventional political parties in country after country have been falling in the face of electoral wrath against globalization, the most recent one being Sweden. Hence we need a new system of values to ensure smoother operation of economic global relations. The value system best prescribed for current globalization would be renewed respect for cultural diversity, traditions, rituals, folklore and distinct identities of our societies and nation-states without an attempt to erase unique features like consumption, beliefs, rituals and practices. For instance the way wine, cheese or food is grown with certain style of organic traditional farming in small cohesive groups tied by kinship and families’ needs to be encouraged rather than large-scale mechanization or biotechnology engineering along with promotion of traditional arts and crafts.

Political and economic elites need to regain the confidence of the masses in the economic globalization process which is the lifeline of modern economic global relations by assuring them of their way of life and ancestral tradition. Current widespread cynicism of erasure of identities and sentiments needs to be dispelled with sensible and responsible policy-making and the engaging of civil society.

Climate change is a shared threat to humanity which requires a serious paradigmatic shift in value-based thinking about global relations. Signing of ambitious treaties can only achieve so much in mitigating global Climate Change without concrete measures. We need large-scale development and diffusion of technologies of generating power and electricity from non-fossil fuel based on renewable sources like wind, solar, biogas, tidal and hydro. The twin requirements for Climate Change mitigation are investments in new technologies and prolific diffusion of renewable energy technologies. The International Energy Agency estimates that a minimum additional $14 trillion is needed in investment to keep climate change within the 2°C target range by 2050.  Our values driving Climate Change global relations would seriously require abandoning focus on profits and returns on investments. Most important from a value-based perspective is technology transfer from developed to developing countries of renewable energy technologies and overcoming the challenge of global corporations in the developed world to forego lucrative profits. This is only possible by the values of shared solidarity and humanism. The proposed alternatives to the current IP-ownership- steered licensing processes are active partnerships between universities, researchers and experts in the form of public-funded research in renewable energy with decreased focus on exclusive IPRs. Open-sourcing of technologies and research and development outputs would facilitate low-cost adoption of renewable energy technologies for the developing world.


Pharma Access

Compassion and relief of human pain is part of our societal narrative from St. Francis of Assisi to Florence Nightingale. Nowhere are the values of solidarity and humanism more demanded than in providing access to healthcare and medicine. It has been estimated by the World Health Organization that nearly 30 percent of the global population, and about 50 percent of those in developing countries do not have access to medicines. This situation is primarily a consequence of the expensive nature of many drugs, making them unaffordable in many developing countries. This has been worsened with the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights regime inaugurated in 2001 protecting patents rights of pharmaceutical companies.

Global pharmaceutical companies argued that developing new drugs is a long, and expensive process of research and development and they need to ensure an adequate return on their innovations. Initially the drugs were protected in terms of process, and if any in the developing world could develop and engineer an alternative process for manufacturing the drug, then introduction into the market was permissible. However, this changed with the introduction of product patent, which inhibited developing countries from developing alternative processes for these products. Compulsory licensing was an effective tool for developing countries where governments could grant rights of production and manufacturing to third-parties without the permission of the patent-holder. One recent instance is a landmark modification by the South African government of its Intellectual Property policy that discontinued the process of granting patents through lobbying by pharmaceutical companies, making Tuberculosis drugs accessible to its citizens.

In Pharma Access, civil society organizations like Medecins de Monde and Medecins sans Frontieres have been at the forefront of pioneering changes to patent regimes. The two organizations challenged a European Patent Organization ruling protecting patents for Gilead’s drug for Hepatitis C Sovaldi, claiming that this prevented patients from receiving affordable treatment and accused pharmaceutical companies of irresponsible conduct by using patents for their own interests instead of their original purpose, to improve the well-being of society. Medecins de Monde is now working on sub-licensing production to generic drug companies in India, South Africa and China.

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