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Bill Clinton Leads Conference on Globalization's Impact - 2003-01-14

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton led a day-long conference at New York University on the impact of globalization on the world economy.

In a room filled will foreign dignitaries, policy makers, students and journalists, former President Clinton set the day's agenda with an overview of how the peoples of the world are faring in the era of globalization. In the last 20 years, he said, the global economy has lifted more people out of poverty than ever before, but more than a billion people still go to bed hungry every night.

"We have here a classic good news, bad news story. We couldn't reverse globalization if we wanted to, and it's simply not true that it is the source of all the problems in the world. But it is absolutely true that economics alone will not come close to solving the problems of the world, and that global interdependence means far more than just an increase in trade," Mr. Clinton said.

One of the central questions of the conference is, why has globalization benefited some countries and not others? The discrepancy between how East Asian economies have flourished over the past decade, versus how Latin American economies have struggled, quickly emerged as a paradigm.

Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore's Ambassador to the United Nations, said East Asia's absolute commitment to globalization, and its peoples' enormous appetite for education, has seen it through hard times, and are at the root of its success.

"The economic meltdown in East Asia between 1997 and 2000 was (massive). Despite that, not a single East Asian country has turned its back on globalization. The doors remain open. To keep the doors open after such an economic storm indicates the level of commitment that they have," he said.

Mr. Mahbubani said East Asians feel they have wasted centuries falling behind Europe, and that globalization is their opportunity to catch up.

Plagued by political upheaval and economic chaos, Latin America has not proven so adept at capitalizing on globalization. The economies of Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, for example, have grown by less than three percent since the early 1990s.

Jorge Castaneda, who just stepped down as Mexico's Foreign Secretary, cites the current crisis in Venezuela which drafted and ratified its constitution just three years ago as representative of what ails Latin American societies as a whole.

"Whatever else one can say about Venezuela today, it would seem that those spanking new institutions do not seem to be particularly helpful or appropriate in solving the very sever social and political divisions that affect Venezuelan society today," he said.

Mr. Castaneda said that until the political institutions in Latin America are altered to better reflect the Latin American people today, it will be difficult to build the kind of consensus that bear effective economic policies.

Panelists agreed, however, that a better system to guide the global economic community in its entirety is required before all countries can find equal footing. The fragile set of international institutions, including the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, may not be enough.

The day-long event also included panels on challenges facing Africa and the Middle East, and the responsibilities of the United States as a globalization leader.