The WTO and other Bretton Woods institutions are widely seen as facilitators of the process of economic globalisation, a process which has been underway for many centuries but which has accelerated since World War II. The role of the WTO, and other organizations, in this process is currently generating considerable social conflict. This article outlines the views of pressure groups from more developed countries about the role of the WTO in economic globalisation paying particular attention to concerns about labour and environmental standards. The views of trade union and labour bodies, of business organizations, farmers and environmentalists, principally from higher income countries, are presented. To some extent, labour bodies, environmentalists and trade-protected farmers appear to have formed a political alliance. In considering the views of developing countries, particular attention is given to the ‘official’ position of India in relation to the WTO. India opposes the introduction of labour and environmental standards into the WTO agenda and now appears to hold a position akin to that of many business organizations, except that it deplores economic globalisation as an inescapable evil. India is being wooed by administrators of Bretton Woods bodies to take a more prominent role in their agendas. But it is doubtful, if the views of the Indian Minister of Commerce are any indication, whether India will able to provide effective political leadership to developing countries because increasingly it has the appearance of the being handmaiden of Western capitalist interests supportive of a narrow traditional forms of economic rationalism. It is possible that China may be able to provide that leadership after it joins WTO but this will depend on its development and support for an appropriate global social philosophy which might be anchored on the notion of sustainable development. But given that China itself is undergoing considerable variation in its social and economic philosophy, the future leadership role of China for the developing world is unclear.


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