Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon
"Fostering or Frustrating Globalization,
That Is the Question"

February 13, 2004


Ernesto Zedillo, President of Mexico from 1994 to 2000, spoke in Wheeler Auditorium at the University of California, Berkeley on Friday, February 13. President Zedillo addressed economic globalization, its effects on poverty and development, and the possibility of "deglobalization" in his talk before more than 600 people, including the chancellor of Berkeley, Robert Berdahl.

Ernesto Zedillo Defends Globalization Policies
Peter Orsi, Graduate School of Journalism

Former Mexico President Ernesto Zedillo gave a spirited defense of globalization in a speech at UC Berkeley, saying that policies such as free trade, when properly implemented, can spread democracy and fight poverty in the developing world.

“Nowadays it has become politically fashionable to point toward globalization as being the cause of all the bad things that are affecting the world,” Zedillo said, but “in some cases globalization or economic integration has nothing to do with the bad effects.”

Zedillo, who earned his Ph.D. in economics from Yale in 1981, is currently director of that university’s Center for the Study of Globalization and heads up several international trade and globalization bodies, including the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Task Force on the Multilateral Trading System. He was appointed Mexico’s secretary of education in 1992 and then was elected president in 1994 in the midst of an economic and political crisis.

In Berkeley, Zedillo challenged the idea, offered by some economists, that globalization is an irreversible process driven by technological change. Globalization “is driven fundamentally by political decisions,” he said, and therefore can indeed be stopped or reversed. The question, he told an audience of some 750 spectators who packed Wheeler Auditorium, was whether rich and poor countries should engage in fostering or frustrating the trend.

Zedillo said that in his view, only rich countries stand to benefit from halting such policies as trade liberalization. “Anyone interested in prosperity in the developing world should not be happy to see deglobalization,” he said. Globalization “can be a very powerful force for good,” he added, noting that since 1980 some two dozen developing nations have posted economic growth rates that are twice those of rich countries, lifting “millions of people” out of poverty.

The problem thus far, Zedillo said, is partly that wealthier nations, including the United States, Japan and European countries, have not lowered trade barriers enough to allow globalization policies to flourish. The former president blamed rich countries’ failure to accommodate the agenda of developing nations, such as a refusal to lower agricultural subsidies or open their markets further, for frustrating globalization’s positive impact. These actions, he said, caused talks to collapse at last September’s World Trade Organization meeting in Cancún. Rather than protesting globalization itself, Zedillo suggested, advocates of the developing world should be demanding greater participation in the economic benefits of free trade and in democratic institutions.

Zedillo called the United States’ and Europe’s agricultural policies “absurd, obscene and ridiculous,” and said they run against the best interests of their own citizens. “One-half of the [EU] budget is channeled to finance agricultural subsidies,” he said. “Europeans are paying many times more for agricultural products than [they would] if the markets were open.”

Zedillo also challenged a recent report that globalization may have spurred an up-tick in child labor in poor countries. “Child labor is fundamentally caused by poverty,” he said. “If globalization is used to fight poverty, then it can be a tool to fight child labor.”

Globalization can also be a tool with which to protect the environment, he said. “Yale economists have found … if you have the right environmental policies along with economic growth, it can improve the environment.”

The trend has its downside, Zedillo conceded. Having “a market economy and democracy does not necessarily mean people are empowered to take part in the market or political process.” The main challenge, he said, is in regions where the market economy has not been allowed to penetrate. In the case of Latin America, he called for “faster economic growth with social policies that empower people to participate in the benefits of economic growth. We need more not less globalization to improve income distribution in Latin America.”

Though heavy on abstract globalization policy, Zedillo’s address was light on specific remedies for its failures. Rather, he issued a broad challenge to the developing world “to do what it takes to make [globalization] deliver on its promises.”

The former president also suggested that the United States should look to globalization as a way to combat terrorism. “The increasing polarization between the haves and the have-nots of the world,” he said, “implies a very severe security problem.” It would be “cheaper and more effective to open markets to developing countries, foster economic cooperation, and allow developing countries to participate in the global economy,” he said, than to spend more on weapons. A deglobalized world would increase the poverty and isolation of developing countries. “If that happens, then we are going to be living in a much more dangerous and a less just world than the one we live in today.”

Terrorism’s roots stem from more than economics, Zedillo said, but “the masterminds of terrorism find more fertile ground for their projects when there’s no hope, when there’s no security, when there’s no opportunity.”

President Zedillo received the Berkeley Medal from Chancellor Robert Berdahl as part of his
visit to the campus.

Before Zedillo began his address, Chancellor Robert Berdahl presented him with the Berkeley Medal, which Berdahl described as the highest honor the university can award. UC Berkeley gives the medal to “distinguished individuals whose contributions illustrate the ideals of the university,” the chancellor said, singling out the former president for his role in the historic 2000 elections in Mexico — in which Zedillo’s own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost the presidency after 71 years in power. “Much good has come from the restoration of competitive elections,” Berdahl added.

During the question and answer session, Zedillo argued that globalization policies instituted during his tenure as president have had a positive effect on the PRI and democracy in Mexico. “Open economies tend to have more open political systems.” In Mexico, he said, open market policies “led to democratic stability.”

Zedillo also praised the Bush administration’s recent initiative to offer amnesty to some immigrant workers in the United States. “Recognizing that this economy needs migrant workers is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Ernesto Zedillo was President of Mexico from December 1994 to December 2000. He gave a speech for CLAS titled “Fostering or Frustrating Globalization, That Is the Question” on February 13, 2004.


President Zedillo addresses the crowd in Wheeler Auditorium.



After the formal talk, President Zedillo (center, with red tie), with Professor Harley Shaiken (directly to his right), the Chair of the Center for Latin American Studies, and Chancellor Berdahl, talked and posed for pictures with with those who attended the talk.


After the formal talk, President Zedillo (foreground left) talked with the students, faculty and members of the Berkeley community who were in attendance at a reception in Wheeler Hall.


President Zedillo (center), accompanied by faculty and administration members including Chair of the Center for Latin American Studies Harley Shaiken (second from right), walks across campus following his talk.

 

 

 

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