Trade Is War

The West's War against the World

As it turns out, Jean Ziegler – author, lecturer, and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food 2000-2008 – writes a far more concise review of Yash Tandon’s latest book, Trade is War, than I can. Fortunately for me you’ll have to buy the book to read Ziegler’s powerful assessment as it serves as the preface to Tandon’s vital, timely, and unflinching chronicle of world trade as one of the West’s most violent weapons used in its tireless campaign of imperial warfare on the global South.

Deeply and uniquely qualified to “seize the narrative”, Tandon sets about methodically dispelling the narcotic fog of propaganda surrounding neocolonial trade policies generated by the West against the rest. Ugandan by birth, Yash Tandon’s decades spent in global, regional and bilateral trade negotiations on behalf of his own country as well as Kenya and Tanzania has placed him at almost every World Trade Organization (WTO) summit since the first one held in Singapore in 1996.

tradeiswar_DVIn response to that debacle – wherein Africa was obliged to accept trade policies crafted and concluded in “green rooms” behind closed doors by industrialized nations of the Global North and West that largely agrarian African countries were neither present in nor party to – Tandon organized the Southern & Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) in 1997. Tandon writes, “It has a simple and straightforward objective: to help build Africa’s capacity to negotiate trade agreements; to help develop the self-confidence of African trade negotiators so they can stand up to their erstwhile colonial masters”. Almost twenty years on, Tandon is still the organization’s Chairman.

In January, 2005, Yash Tandon was appointed, and served for a period of years, as the Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank of the Global South concerned with a broad palate of ‘trade related’ issues vacuumed into the purview of the rich and powerful nations that constitute and control the WTO.

Amidst the ceaseless welter of colonial narrative streamed and televised like an IV push into living rooms, tablets and cell phones everywhere by corporate media on the very threshold of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), the African incarnation TIPA and its European analog TTIP, Tandon’s call to arms declares with burning sincerity, “If you do not write your own story, you have no right to independence”. If that’s not clear enough, then perhaps the last sentence of the first paragraph on page one of Tandon’s introduction sufficiently lays bare his thesis: “The WTO is a veritable war machine”.

The next 167 pages – and 18 pages of end notes – are a journey of painstaking historical analysis recounting colonial conquest and plunder whose trajectory brings us to the savagery of extractive neocolonial trade policy in present day Africa generally and the countries of East Africa in particular. Africa is but Tandon’s own historical wellspring yielding up from her aching heart the endless supportive examples drawn from his own lived experience on the front lines of regional and global trade negotiation. The topic of Trade Wars is of truly planetary scale impacting the Least Developing Countries (LDC’s) to the freshly industrialized BRIC nations defending themselves as best they can.

Tandon shifts focus to tactics the WTO deftly utilizes to subjugate the weak such as the proliferation of intellectual property laws (IP) designed to protect big pharma and global seed monopolists like Cargill and Monsanto. This has been — and continues to be — a significant focus of trade policies hammered out in WTO “boiler rooms” behind locked doors well out of public view. As Tandon puts it, “The commodification of ‘knowledge’ – or, turning knowledge into the private property of global corporations – is a product of the emergence of capitalism in Europe”. And, “In the case of hybrid seeds, it is no longer a question of an absence of scientific evidence. There is ample evidence showing that the lives of millions are at risk in order to maximise profits for global mega-seed monopolies”.

Lest U.S. citizens, hallmarked by a stunning and aggressive ignorance – the stupefied torpor of American exceptionalism – imagine themselves immune to the vagaries of trade warfare conducted by the WTO, Tandon points out that, “Having acquired patent rights on its seeds, Monsanto then takes ordinary farmers to court for patent infringement. In a report, the Center for Food Safety said that it discovered 142 patent infringement suits against 410 farmers and fifty-six small businesses in more than 27 states as of December 2012”. The war always comes home.

The tactics of intellectual property wars, resource wars, economic partnership agreements (EPA) and taxpayer subsidies to western producers of cash crops like cotton that peg the international spot prices at artificially low levels, starving out farmers throughout the Global South, are all brutal subsets of Western trade policies applied “with deftness and chicanery – as lethal as drone attacks”. Policies that are themselves manifestations of capitalism’s bankrupt ideology – a profoundly unstable economic form predicated upon the pathological notions of scarcity and greed.

Of it, Tandon writes, “Today, five billion people, arguably all in the South, starve so that a billion may live in comfort. It is odd that mainstream economists quote figures of ‘growth’ and prosperity even as the system of capitalism-imperialism is facing what looks like an epochal crisis. This is yet another example of the state of denial under which the West continues to pursue its relentless imperial hostilities all over the world”. “The capitalist-imperialist system polarizes wealth and poverty. It is within its DNA”.

Yash Tandon describes the violent death throes of late stage capitalism in this all too brief but rich and essential work. Wisely aiding his own cause, he keeps the byzantine argot of tradespeak on the sidelines, leaving the reader a small trove of acronyms and abbreviations with their definitions at the front of the book for reference.

Not understanding history, one can’t know where one is. Not deeply. Thus one is – in a very real sense – lost. Lost to the real. Lost in the superficial understanding, intellectual laziness and blithe regard of dreamstate consumerism chewing cud somewhere between now and a gluey intermediate utopia – nowhere – as a planetary collapse orchestrated, choreographed and enabled by the language of trade policy unfolds before the sleepy wet eyes of herdstock that can no longer see. That’s not hyperbole; its a warning. This is no time to be lost or asleep.

If you are, then Yash Tandon’s scrupulous work is the cure. Buy it, read it, hi-lite it and make it an essential part of your personal reference library. And then buy a copy for a friend.

Every bit as essential as “Trade Wars” are the brave and courageous editors at O/R Books who took Tandon’s manuscript and turned it into a timely and timeless treasure. Buy this book from the publisher’s website at If you buy this book through Amazon, yes, that’s right, you’re sleeping and have utterly missed the point.

Anthony Tarrant no longer toils for healthcare in retail fashion's corporate mills. He lives and writes in Costa Rica, a poor country filled with incredibly happy people with no standing army since 1948. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Anthony.