THE GLOBAL CONTEXT AND MOTIVATIONS
It is now increasingly recognised throughout the world that the politically-driven and corporate-serving 'globalisation' now being imposed on all economies is causing an ever-growing concentration of wealth and anti-democratic power within gigantic global corporations. This is accompanied by and causing an ever-greater polarisation of wealth towards privileged minorities, on the one hand, and deepening poverty for the majority of the world's population, on the other. The intensified exploitation and escalating production-and-consumption cycles of 'the global economy' are having disastrous effects not only on the lives of billions of people, but also upon the world's resources, nature and other species, local and global environments, and the very economic and political stability and sustainability of the world as a whole.
What is also becoming more recognised is that the expansion and intensification of the operations of global capital and corporations from their bases in the most highly industrialised, riched and powerful countries is but the latest phase in the historic expansion of these dominant economies and economic forces throughout the world. The earlier phases of capitalist expansion and growth were based upon and took the form of inter-national mercantilist trade wars, inter-continental slave trade, direct colonial occupation and voracious pillage of other countries and peoples, and most recently direct and indirect neo-colonial interventions and continued exploitation.
Today, in the era of so-called 'globalisation'
• the enforced 'opening up' of all economies, and all economic, social and cultural aspects of all
countries for the operations of companies from the enriched industrialised countries of the North; together with
• the (re)inforced external orientation of 'developing countries' through 'export-led growth' in
order to supply the consumer markets and provide migrant labour flows for the service requirements of the highly 'developed' countries; and
• the political co-optation and ideological reconditioning of the political, entrepreneurial,
managerial and technical elites in the developing countries to accept and even promote such processes and the global system;
are, together, amounting to what is increasingly being seen to be the effective and/or attempted (re)colonisation of such countries, above all in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, referred to collectively as The South.
In addition to the diverse responses that peoples organisations are making to this creeping recolonisation, one of the responses and strategic reactions by some governments has been the regroupment of their countries into regional entities to resist the renewed and even more extensive and intensive subjection of their economies and peoples to external domination and exploitation.
This is the international context and these are part of the defensive motivations for the creation of the many regional groupings today between countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean. However, there are also more proactive initiatives and internally generated motivations for such regional strategies.
PROACTIVE INTRA-REGIONAL AIMS AND NEEDS
It has long been recognised by civil society organisations and even by many governments in the countries of the South that the regrouping of their countries into larger economic units can be an important basis or framework for effective and sustainable local, national and cross-border regional development programs, and for negotiating more equitable and balanced relations within and between such regional partners and allies.
There have been many inter-governmental regional initiatives of different types and effectiveness amongst countries of the South over the years. Many have faltered and failed owing to their excessive focus on trade rather than holistic development strategies. Others have been undermined by their own internal economic rivalries particularly between their national and regional business interests, intra-regional political, economic and other tensions, and the lack of economic vision or political commitment of their ruling elites; but above all the lack of active engagement of their populations.
But all such emerging regional groupings have also been subject to deliberate political and 'policy' interventions by governments of the North and international institutional agencies controlled by them, particularly the IMF/WB and the WTO. They are determined to pre-empt proposed state-led, demand-driven development strategies that depart from neo-liberal 'market' orthodoxies. Such alternative regionalised development models could potentially challenge and undermine the currently dominant liberalised and globalised capitalist economic system through regional-based programs and alliances of those prejudiced by globalisation that aim for and produce incremental processes of "de-globalisation".
Instead, there has been a concerted drive by powerful international economic and political forces to transform such actual/potential regions into 'open regionalisms' in order to incorporate them into the neo-liberal global economy and open them up to global trade and investment, and unfettered speculative capital flows. In Africa, the interaction of the above national and international processes is now reflected also in the proposed free trade, liberalised investment and other programs within the so-called New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) oriented towards the 'rapid integration' of such an internally liberalised and 'integrated' Africa into the globalised capitalist economy.
NEO-LIBERAL 'REGIONALISMS' AND INTER-REGIONAL INITIATIVES
However, the strategic global significance of regional groupings is now becoming increasingly evident with the ever-growing power and assertiveness of the regional groupings or Free Trade Areas created by the richest and most powerful countries in the world, namely the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) driven by the US, and the ever-expanding European Union.
In the simultaneously regionalised-and-globalised world economy being created by such global power blocks in the North, and in an increasingly competitive and hostile global environment, the political and economic regrouping and mutual strengthening of countries of the South has now become a survival imperative. But these countries continue to face many contradictory initiatives that threaten and undermine the developmental potential in their own regions.
Neo-liberal Regional Strategies from the North. The processes within the WTO leading up to and in the Ministerial in Cancun, and US and EU government pronouncements and actions since, have brought powerfully to world public attention
- the growing recourse of the major powers to offensive unilateral, bilateral, plurilateral and regional strategies in relation to other countries and in order to counter other regional groupings,
- even as they also formally promote and continue to use the global multilateral system and institutional regime in the interests of their global companies, their own countries and/or their own regional groupings.
These processes, already evident to civil society analysts over recent years, have now added greater emphasis to the importance of analysing, exposing and opposing these big power strategies, particularly their respective regional and inter-regional ‘free trade’ agreements. These include Washington's proposed FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) and the European Union's proposed Economic Partnerships Agreements (EPAs) with regional groupings of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries within the framework of the Cotonnou Agreement.
Regional Strategies from the South in relation to the North - In part as a response to the added economic and political pressures on their countries and regional groupings by the major powers, many developing country governments are also utilising regional and inter-regional strategies:
- either turning their attentions towards revitalising and strengthening their existing regional
groupings as bases from which to resist the Northern imposed 'regions' - which seems to be the case of Brazil within MERCOSUL and in relation to the US' FTAA, and had been posed earlier in relation to SADC during South Africa's FTA negotiations with the EU;
- or using their dominance in their own regions, as in the case of South Africa within the
Southern African Customs Union (SACU) to actually promote an inter-regional free trade
agreement with the US, and which is now underway also between MERCOSUR and the EU.
Which of these approaches strengthens or becomes dominant will depend on the shared information, and experiences, cooperation and proactive interventions by alliances of civil society organisations within and between these regions.
Inter-regional South-South strategies - At the same time, however, these governments are also giving greater emphasis to South-South economic relations, partly with the revived Global System of Trade preferences (GSTP), but also in the form of proposed free(er) trade agreements between themselves: bilaterally, as between South Africa and Brazil, between Brazil and India, South Africa and India and so on, and/or between their respective regions, in this case MERCOSUR and SACU, and/or MERCOSUR and SADC, and others.
Although starting with 'preferential' trade arrangements but intending to become much more open and comprehensive agreements, these South-South alternatives also reflect the business interests of producers/exporters and investors in these respective countries/regions. They do not challenge but reinforce the currently dominant neo-liberal trade and investment paradigm, and could even encourage competitive 'neo-mercantilist' relations between these countries unless countered by alternative people-driven developmental regionalisms.
Equally, such free trade and investment agreements between large and powerful 'South' economies, such as Brazil, India and (relatively-speaking) South Africa, on the one hand, and on the other hand much smaller and vulnerable countries in their respective regions, would also replicate the imbalanced and exploitative relations that characterise North-South relations …. unless smaller governments adopt proactive positions alerted by civil society cooperation within and between these regions, which together persuade or pressurise such South-South programs to adopt cooperative and mutually developmental approaches.
PEOPLES ALTERNATIVE REGIONALISMS
Clearly then, these recent initiatives
• from governments within the North and in relation to countries in the South individually and in regional groupings, and
• from governments in the South in relation to the North, but also in relation to each others
economies and to their respective regions,
both pose significant and urgent challenges to CSOs which are opposed to the expansion and continued international domination by the global neo-liberal capitalist system whether promoted by governments of the North or the South.
All the above developments are adding urgency and greater impetus to the long-standing commitments of many social movement analysts and activists in these countries and regions with regard to their engagements and cooperation around strategies and programs in economic, socio-economic, social, cultural, environmental and other areas of cooperation and development. These many changes and challenges are also
- reinforcing the importance of political cooperation through cross-border initiatives between civil society organisations, themselves, for direct people-driven processes in all these spheres in their regions;
- as well as raising more acutely the challenges posed in relation to the official inter-governmental regionalisation processes and the official structures that have been created over the years - but which are being targeted to become further instruments of capitalist globalisation.
The above government-to-government, country-to-country and region-to-region interactions carry significant implications for the lives of the peoples of these countries and regions and demand equivalent people-to-people interactions, sharing of information and experiences, and building of solidarity and cooperative relations between themselves in all sectors and at all levels. Such processes could create popular intra-regional and inter-regional alliances between different sectors of civil society, and between the peoples, countries and regions involved.
In this context, this project proposes to build on popular contacts and organisational relations already existing within and between the MERCOSUL and SADC regions and bring together a range of civil society organisations from both regions in a series of Peoples Dialogues to pose and discuss key strategic questions facing them, their governments, their countries and regions. These challenging questions include:
1. What are the kind of political and economic policies and programs that could make these regions effective frameworks for different intra-regional development programs and relations that are balanced, gendered and equitable, democratic and sustainable?
2. What are the necessary political and economic policies and programs to develop different inter-regional South-South political and economic relations that are equitable and sustainable and that do not replicate the currently dominant international economic relations?
3. What are the necessary political and economic strategies to make these regions and inter-regional agreements effective strategic bases from which to challenge and change, or incrementally undermine the currently dominant global system and regime?
4. How do peoples organisations create the necessary political will and commitment by the governments concerned within their countries and within their regions - or, if necessary create different governments - to actively build and effectively use these regions economically and politically ?
5. How can the respective peoples organisations cooperate to develop the necessary civil society political capacities in all sectors and at all levels to strengthen their own independent role, and in order to get governments that will do what is needed, in 1 to 4 above?
6. How do popular organisations in these regions develop the economic, environmental, social,
cultural, and political peoples alternatives in analyses - and in concrete practice to create the alternatives to be directly implemented on the ground, and/or promoted - or imposed on - governments ?
7. How can such experiences, aims and achievements be shared also with other similar peoples organisations in other countries and regions of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific ?
8. How can such experiences and urgent needs be shared also with counterpart democratic/
peoples organisations in other countries of the North and other regions of the world, to engage them in challenging and changing the global policies of their own governments that are contradictory to the above? And even changing the internal character of their own regions?