January 14, 2006

La Paz Effect: Latin Tremors

The ripple effects of Evo Morales’ election as President of Bolivia are continuing to be felt throughout Latin America—most poignantly in the ongoing dissection of the economic reform model known as the ‘Washington consensus’ that was one of Morales’ favorite targets.

Bolivia was supposed to be a laboratory for the ‘consensus’ economic reform model of tight social spending and export-oriented growth. But it was those who perceived themselves as 'disenfranchised' from those policies--millions of small farmers, urban poor and the country’s large indigenous population--who put Morales into the presidential palace in La Paz, and toppled whatever remaining legitimacy for the ‘consensus’ remained within the continent. Shortly after Morales’ election, Argentine president Nestor Kirchner announced that he would pay off the country’s outstanding $9.8 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund, thus unhinging the country from IMF/World Bank constraints; a left candidate for the Peruvian presidency, Ollanta Humalla, surged into second place in the polls; and the Zapatistas, in Mexico over new years, launched “the other campaign” in parallel to that country’s presidential race to highlight issues of indigenous rights--an effort widely perceived as having received a considerable boost from the election results in Bolivia. By January 14, the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo featured a debate between John Williamson, the U.S. economist, affiliated with the Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC, considered to be one of the primary architects of what’s become known as the Washington Consensus; and José Luis Machinea, Secretary General of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean at the United Nations, over what, if anything, remains of the “Consensus’.

The changes in Latin America—long in the works, but also intensified by Morales’ election—are not merely ones of rhetoric. Even John Williamson admitted that the World Bank made mistakes in not paying enough attention to the ‘social factors” involved in economic reform. The “Washington consensus,” a complex set of policies so tied to the United States that they bear the name of our nation’s capital, is unraveling just as quickly as a new term is being introduced to suggest a somewhat more welcome economic power in Latin Power: “Chindia,” the combined economic might of India and China. The turn of many Latin countries east—toward Asia as well as toward the European Union—has gone largely un-reported in the United States. But, El Tiempo suggests, such new trading partners offer not only growing and increasingly affluent markets, but none of the political baggage associated with the long history of U.S. intervention in the region:
“Since the end of the communist system in the USSR, the United States has been dreaming of a world dominated by one superpower: the U.S. That is not coming to pass.
The rapid transformation of China into an economic power, with India following in its footprints, signifies that the U.S. better prepare for a different future, one in which it will have to understand how to share power among others like never before. It’s a change that will not be easy.”

Posted 06:32 PM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2005

No APEC, No Bush

anti-bush.bmp
Member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) began the annual APEC forum Saturday , with the start of the Concluding Senior Officials' Meeting (CSOM).

This week Asia Pacific summit will be attended by US President George W. Bush. Exactly like the one in Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires during this year's Summit of the Americas, President Bush has thousands of protesters here in Busan, South Korea's second largest city, again.

AFP reports following.

Farmers' union leaders said 50,000 of their members would rally in Busan next Friday along with a similar turnout of workers in an anti-Bush, anti-trade liberalization protest.

"No Bush! No War! No Globalization! No APEC!," read a leaflet calling on workers to take part in an anti-APEC rally.

*snip*

In a statement, the group said APEC had become a tool for US multinationals seeking to expand their dominance in the world market "under the pretext of trade liberalization."

The group leaders also criticised Bush at a rally here for leading a "war of aggression" against Iraq. One protester, wearing a face mask and carrying a mock M-16 rifle, was bound by ropes with a sign attached reading "war criminal."

Photo is also from AFP.

Posted 09:37 PM | Comments (0)

October 31, 2005

National security

By Elena Favilli

American media keep focusing on CFIU and national security issues. William Hawkins, on the Washington Post, underlines the necessity to strengthen control over the CFIUS:

In a dangerous world, America cannot allow its defense industry to either wither away or become the prey of foreign rivals. If CFIUS is not up to protecting the economic base of U.S. military superiority, Congress must strengthen the system.

Posted 11:17 AM | Comments (0)

October 22, 2005

A controversial definition of security

The Bush administration's attempt to overhaul the CFIUS (Committee of foreign investments in the US) gives us the possibility to think about the definition of "national security".

The Financial Times reports on Senator James Inholfe's call for an overhaul that would give Congress greater oversight of CFIUS. His report highlights "a weakness in CFIUS as the panel did non explicitly define 'national security' to include 'economic' security". Mr Kimmitt, deputy Treasury secretary, notes that lawmakers should not force CFIUS to adopt a strict definition of security, since the concept of security is always in motion: "The day you try to define it, it will be out of date".

Posted 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2005

Bangladesh Tastes Bolivia's Revolt

Will the breakneck speed of trade liberalization, as
prescribed by the IMF and WB, push Bangladesh toward a
street revolution a la Bolivia? That’s the warning of
AJM Shafiul Alam Bhuiyan, a professor in the
Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at
University of Dhaka, in an editorial in
">The Daily Star,the country's largest English language daily newspaper.
“In recent years Bangladesh has become an ideal place for
international money lenders such as the IMF and WB,” he writes.

The adoption of neo-liberal policies, Bhuiyan cautions, has
already resulted in big blows to the nation’s economy.
The closing down of one of the largest and long
standing jute mills in the country, for example, cost
thousands of people their jobs, effectively destroying
the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of their
dependents.

The history of the IMF and WB policies in Latin
America are a bracing wake up call for Bangladesh and
other developing countries, the author says, tracing
the history of peasant uprisings in Bolivia. “If the
government [of Bangladesh] continues to adhere to IMF
and WB recommended policies, is the vision of a mass
of hungry and poor people seizing the capital like
Bolivians for food, education, shelter, and healthcare
in the near future out of the question?”

Others have echoed his cries. Rapid trade
liberalization, undertaken to appease the World Bank,
is costing Bangladesh dearly, slowing down its
economy, a former commerce minister, Tofail Ahmed,
recently told a trade expo.


DAVID MONTERO is a freelance journalist
currently based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. His writing has
appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Nation,
and Mother Jones, and other publications.

Posted 01:03 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2005

US-Canada: A key relationship under strain

While foreign perceptions of the US manifest themselves most through speeches and writing, they can also be detected in what people choose to do, or where they choose to go. The Economist tracks Canadian-American relations through the volume day trips made across their common border. For the last twenty years, the number of day-long visits has varied regularly according to affordability:

When the Canadian dollar went up, shoppers would flood south and a few budget-conscious American tourists would forgo their vacation among the moose, mountains and Mounties. There was even a rough rule of thumb: for every 10% appreciation of the loonie (as Canadians call their currency) against the greenback, there would be a 13% increase in the number of Canadians going south and a 3% decrease in the number of Americans heading north.

Lately, this trend has broken down – despite a significant appreciation of the Canadian dollar, visits by Canadians are flat, and more Americans are staying away then expected. The article puts forward two explanations – that people are deterred by the length and hassle of the post-Sept. 11th border controls, and that diverging cultural and political values make visits less appealing. It sites a survey of Americans conducted by the Ontario provincial government, in which Canadian anti-Americanism was the number 2 reason given for opting against vacationing in Canada, as well as fear of terrorism and Canadian recognition of gay marriage. Canadians have similarly reservations about the US – the article quotes one tourism official noting that it’s “Both sides [that] feel less welcome in the other country.”
Another article chronicles a ten-year trade dispute over softwood lumber. A marginal and unknown issue in the US, in Canada it's front-page material. The dispute hinges on tarrifs placed on Canadian softwood exports, which have been determined to violate the NAFTA agreement by tribunals organized under the treaty - seven times. After losing its final appeal, the US announced it would maintain tarrifs in open violation of the NAFTA agreement. The Canadians responded by abandoning negotiations, and both sides have resorted to threats and name-calling. The article notes that, while the Canadians have little direct leverage, they don't intend to keep silent - "Canada also plans an information campaign telling other countries seeking trade deals with the United States what it has learned about the value of its signature on a treaty."

Posted 08:07 PM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2005

French politicians cry out against a potential American takeover of Danone

It all started with a rumor : is PepsiCo planning a hostile takeover of French dairy giant Danone? Fueled by silence from PepsiCo and a flurry of fiery comments from French politicians, this rumor has snowballed into top news over the past days. The question has quickly turned to one of national identity.

The perspective of France losing one of its emblematic companies opens the door for debate on whether or not the state should do anything in the face of globalization - and perhaps more importantly, in this case, whether it can.

French leaders have leapt to Danone’s defense, citing the impact its loss would have on French jobs and production in other sectors dependent on Danone’s large demand.

Nicolas Sarkozy, Interior Minister and chief of the right-wing UMP party, is quoted in Le Monde as saying that “the public powers [i.e. the state] will have to do everything they can” to block a hostile takeover.

On the left, ex-finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn predicted that the French “would react very strongly to what they’ll consider as a direct attack on their identity” and wrote to PepsiCo shareholders warning them of the reactions a takeover could ignite. Laurent Fabius asked president Jacques Chirac to “act urgently so that [Danone] can stay european- and French-based”.

Chirac himself, off on a visit to Madagascar, says he is “vigilant” and “mobilised” against such a course of events.

A few others, however, have been vocal expressing their discontent with politicians interference in the matter. Renaud Dutreil, of the ministry of small and medium-sized businesses, has stated that it is not the role of the state to “involve itself in the affairs of private companies” but that its role should rather be to protect small businesses from the practices of certain bigger ones - which, of course, include Danone. The company, which has in the past delocalised some of its activities, is indeed no newcomer when it comes to the workings of the global market. But now that it may fall its victim, what can France do to keep Danone from American takeover? According to an editorial in Le Monde, not much. But intimidating words on the part of the government aren’t completely fruitless : they’ve proved helpful in past cases, such as bringing together the companies Sanofi and Aventis in the face of a buyout from Swiss company Novartis in 2004, or discouraging Siemens from taking over Alstom in 2003.

Meanwhile, Danone’s stock is soaring. According to one analyst, Gérard Augustin-Normand, president of the Richelieu Finance, the whole rumor could well have been orchestrated by both Danone and state officials as a preemptive strike against any future takeover attempts on Danone or other major French companies. The lack of formal denial from PepsiCo, he claims, could be explained by purely legal reasons, since a statement declaring they aren’t interested in Danone would mean they would not be able to touch the company for 18 months. In an interview for French station TF1, he says that everything in the affair seems “too well orchestrated,” and that Danone and PepsiCo are also poignant symbols : one a pillar of the French economy, the other representative of “everything the French hate” : junk food and American capitalism ...

Posted 06:12 AM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2005

U.S. versus “G8” : No Change for Climate Change ?


The Group of 8 summit is set to highlight differences
of opinion between the United States and the
remaining 7 nations represented. A highly contentious
issue is on the agenda: climate
change. Britain’s prime minister Tony Blair, who will
preside over the summit, hopes to stimulate efforts by
forming a joint call to action between the nations, of
which the U.S. is the only one left to not have signed
the Kyoto Protocol.
Opinions in the European press have been vastly
pessimistic as to the outcome of the summit,
predicting little hope of seeing the U.S. budge from
its current position. Instead, it seems that a
watered-down version of the text, revised by U.S.
negotiators, will be the only option offered up at the
G8 summit. A version that French president Jacques
Chirac, who had previously threatened to veto any
weakened version, seems nevertheless poised to sign :
“We’ve had difficult negotiations, and it seems that
we are orienting towards an agreement,” he stated on
July 4 to Liberation.

The draft of the G8 joint statement, first divulged to the New York Times on June 18 shows the signs of U.S. pressure
by deleting the introductory
statement “Our world is warming.” Newer versions show
that while President Bush would be ready to state that
“climate change is a reality” and that the problem
must be dealt with through new technologies, U.S.
negotiators have also taken out any mention of the
role of humans in climate change. Bush, in a broadcast
for British TV station ITV, stated that he would
indeed refuse to sign anything that resembles the
Kyoto Protocol.

Will the remaining nations feel that what is left of
the original statement, however weakened, is better
than nothing? will nothing be signed? or will they
instead choose to issue a “G7” statement excluding the
U.S., thereby strengthening the gap between the U.S.
and the rest?

For Denis Delbecq, environmental writer for the French
newspaper Liberation’s online blog, there is no
possibility of a “G7” document excluding the U.S. on
the subject. While Blair, under pressure from French
and German officils, has made threats to that effect,
these, according to analysts in Europe, are empty.
While the outcome is as of yet unclear, what emerges in many
analyses by the European press is that the issue is
yet another one that sets the U.S. at odds with
Europe.

Posted 07:42 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2005

GMO Storm Coming...

News just out of Europe suggest serious obstacles ahead in the longstanding U.S. effort to pave the way for acceptance of genetically modified crops. The Independent in the UK reports that a study conducted by Monsanto itsself--the company dominates the international market in gmo's---suggests that rats fed a diet heavy in geneticaqlly engineered corn variety developed alterations in their organs--including smaller kidneys--and changes in the composition of their blood.

This report promises to have an impact that will continue to ripple across the continent and the world. Already, the U.S. government as staked a lot of political capital on fighting the European's more cautious approach to gmos. While in the US, they're officially considered no different than any other crop, in Europe they're approved on a seed by seed basis....and this latest finding leaked to the Independent builds on fears that we haven't yet known about gmo's may be dangerous.

It can't help with U.S. efforts to negotiate with the Europeans on a host of trade-releated issues, as the US already has a WTO challenge in the works to a previous generation of EU challenges to gmo's. And its become a foreign policy issue of major significance as countries around the world reject American corn exports for fear of contaminating their own food supply.


http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_technology/story.jsp?story=640430

Posted 07:01 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2005

"Argentina's No. 1 Enemy"

By Peter Orsi

Imagine that you owe $20 to a man named Kenneth Dart. Dart has a highly successful pedigree; his father started a thriving container manufacturing business in Michigan currently worth $2 billion to $6 billion, with annual revenues of $464 million. But Dart made most of his fortune speculating in the financial markets. He presently resides in the Cayman Islands -- he moved there several years ago, reportedly to avoid paying taxes in his home country. Few people on the island have seen him in the last few years. When he's not on his multimillion-dollar yacht equipped with armor and an anti-missile system, he lives in a sprawling beachfront mansion, protected by armed guards. You, meanwhile, lost your job four years ago when your country fell into financial chaos. Your savings lost two-thirds of their value overnight, and your entire country is struggling to recover from financial ruin.

You might not feel like paying sending that $20 bill to the Caymans.

Now imagine that everyone on your block, everyone in your city, everyone in your country of some 40 million people (roughly equal to the population of California) owes $20 each to Kenneth Dart. This is the reality on the ground in Argentina today.

In Spring 2004 I covered a Buenos Aires protest against on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The demonstration was just as big and noisy as the similar protests around the world that day. But mixed in with the antiwar signs and chants was a great deal of anger at what is perceived as U.S. complicity in Argentina's financial woes. Dart, Argentina's largest private creditor -- he's seeking to collect some $725 million from the country, plus four years of interest, about $130,000 a month -- is perhaps the poster child for this anger.

Argentina's leading newspaper, Clarín, is running a special on Kenneth Dart, whose case against the Argentine government was heard yesterday by an appellate court in New York. "The fortune and prosperity of millions of Argentines is these days in the hands of Kenneth Dart," says the multimedia presentation. If you can read Spanish, it's worth checking out in its entirety – especially since there's not much about the case in the U.S. press. To understand Dart's story is to understand why many Argentines feel that some of the richest people in the world's wealthiest country have taken their entire nation for a ride.

More parts of the Dart package:
* "The enigmatic holder of the vulture fund who hides out on the Grand Cayman"
* "The secret history of the lawsuit Dart initiated in the United States"
* "The intriguing business of the firm Dart founded in Pilar, Argentina"

Further Reading:
* Despair in Once-Proud Argentina (Washington Post, from 2002; good background piece on Argentina's financial collapse).
* Argentina Fends Off Vultures (AmericanFreePress.net; describes how Argentina is working to emerge from debt; some info about Dart and other "vulture fund" creditors).

Posted 02:07 PM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2005

The Flattening of the World

"Thirty-five years ago, if you had a choice of being born a B+ student in Indianapolis or a genius in India, you’d rather be a B+ student in Indianapolis because you’d have a more comfortable life," said Pulitzer-prize winning author and New York Times columnits Thomas Friedman. He appeared on CNN Headline News to talk about his new book, "The World is Flat," about the globalization of economies, knowledge and information, and technology.

But attaining a comfortable life is harder in recent years, he said: "When the world goes flat, and that genius born in India can now plug and play and compete and collaborate as though they were next door. Being a B+ student in Indianapolis won’t quite cut it anymore." He said with the outsourcing of jobs, those in India "can still sit at home wearing saris and eating curry" while participating in the global market and effectively outdoing the average American worker.

Friedman said that technology and the internet have created a global platform, and stepping onto that platform over the past few years are the other world powers: Russia, China and India. The "flattening" of the world happened so fast that it took even him by surprise, he said. Over the past few years, in the shadow of the dot-com bust and 9/11 and the US wars on abstract concepts like terror, the world has flattened and become fiberoptically-connected network.

India's participation in particular has had an effect on outsourcing of American jobs abroad, but Friedman sees both sides:

Let’s look at the upside first of all. The fact is that the US is the largest recipient of outsourcing in the world. However the stuff that other countries outsource to us are not the small-end jobs. It’s things like advertising, accounting, design work. Go up and down the west coast, you’ll see huge service centers that are really the magnets for outsourcing all over the world. These are high-end jobs. If we put up walls to that, we suffer.

The bad part is if you are on the other end of the spectrum, your job is at risk of being outsourced.

The competition from other countries with the world's leading superpower, the U.S., could be bad news for the U.S. He mentions a quote from Bill Gates:

We had a remarkable thing happen about a month ago. Bill gates, the countries leading modern age industrialist, stood before the 50 governors and said American high school education is obsolete. He said our country is not producing the kind of engineers and scientists that are necessary to compete in the world.

To that, he added:

Parents used to tell him finish your dinner, people in inidia and china are starving. What I say to my girls is finish your homework, people in India and china are starving for your job.

On questions of how much this is a threat to the United States, he said that in the same way information and knowledge are made accessible and easily transferrable, terrorists and insurgents now have an easy recruiting tool. With television and the internet bringing humiliation to those defeated in wars and battles at 56k all over the world, potential defeat of insurgents in Iraq could serve as a recruiting tool for sympathetic Osama followers, for example, he said.

Friedman ends by saying he is optimistic that "connecting the knowledge pools" of the world will yield more good than evil.

Posted 12:51 PM | Comments (1)

March 29, 2005

South African Trade Detours United States

The news from South Africa last week painted a picture of a vacuum—a great empty space where coverage of the United States might once have been. South Africa’s newspapers suggest not the presence or influence of the United States, but its absence. The sole reporting from the U.S. among the country’s major newspapers revolved around the Michael Jackson trial, of which there was abundant wire coverage.

The Cape Times (subscription required) Cape Town’s leading morning daily, reported on a visit to South Africa by the Foreign Ministers of India, Natwar Singh, and of Brazil, Celso Amerin—focusing on their creation of a ‘Business Council’ with South Africa’s Foreign Minister Nkosazma Dlamini-Zuma to facilitate trade between the three countries. [Cape Times, 10 March, 2005] Specifically, South Africa is in the process of establishing closer relations with the member countries of the Mercosur trading bloc—Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay—and to bring South Africa into the web of trade accords between that bloc, of which Brazil is a leading member, and India.

The meetings between these powerhouses of the developing world take on new meaning in light of the dramatic slowdown in negotiations between Brazil and other Latin American nations and the Bush Administration in negotiating a Free Trade of the Americas agreement.
That effort to establish a NAFTA style, hemisphere-wide trade accord have floundered—while efforts to create an alliance among the tri-continental powerhouses of the southern hemisphere are taking on steam. The three countries have established an alliance, known as IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) “to strengthen south-south cooperation,” reports Angela Quintal, Political Editor for the Cape Times. Trade between the three countries amounted to $4 billion last year, the Cape Times reports; SA Foreign Minister Dlamini-Zuma said that the three nations hope that will grow to some $10 billion by 2007.

In the same week, several other developments suggested the growing ties between the three economic powerhouses of the developing world. According to The Sun Times (subscription required) a South African national daily, Brazil has endorsed the call of the African Union (in which South Africa is a major player) for two African seats on the U.N. Security Council—as well as a permanent seat for a representative from the Arab world. [The Times, 12 March, 2005] The paper suggests that if approved, Africa’s two seats would go to South Africa and Nigeria.

The Cape Argus, a Cape Town afternoon paper (subscription required), reports that India has also thrown its support behind this effort to expand membership in the Security Council. “The foreign ministers of India, Brazil and South Africa said the UN Security Council no longer represented the reality of today’s world,” writes Argus correspondent Thokozani Mtshali. “They reiterated their call for urgent and extensive UN reform and for it to be ‘responsive to the priorities of its member states’ especially the developing world.” [Cape Argus, 13 March, 2005]

Not one of the articles made reference to the U.S. position on this matter. While Michael Jackson’s squirming in Santa Barbara was by far the dominant news about America for South Africans, the main international reporting that week was on the gathering force of political and economic alliances that are detouring Washington altogether.

Posted 06:50 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2005

Anti-Wolfowitz from inside the World Bank

Will there be violence in the developing world if Wofowitz becomes the World Bank's president?
For Nobel Prize Joseph Stiglitz, who was also the chief economist of the World Bank, it is inevitable. "The World Bank will once again become a hate figure. This could bring street protests and violence across the developing world", he said in an interview.
He adds that President Bush's decision can be seen as "an act of provocation or an act so insensitive as to look like provocation".

Read: Stiglitz warns of violence if Wolfowitz goes to World Bank

Posted 05:06 PM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2005

Europe – New realities that the U.S. cannot ignore

One of the most delicate issues when trying to track “perceptions of the United States in the World” might be to gauge the impact of facts on feelings. In particular of changing realities.

The war in Iraq or the growing trend towards democracy in the Middle East is obvious elements about which much has been written.

There are deeper shift though that deeply affect perceptions… on both sides. This excellent article by Mark Schapiro titled “New Power for ‘Old Europe’” is a case in point.

It shows that decisions taken at the EU level may have a serious impact on major US companies that can’t do as much as they would like about it. Schapiro studies in particular the case of REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), a directive that:

[...]represents an upheaval in the basic philosophy of chemical regulation, flipping the American presumption of "innocent until proven guilty" on its head by placing the burden of proof on manufacturers to prove chemicals are safe--what is known as the "precautionary principle."

The chemicals industry and the State Department have done what they could to derail it, but it’s difficult to influence a democratic body of 25 countries and a market of 450 million consumers.

Schapiro writes:

When Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State for President Ford in 1977, he famously asked in frustration, "What telephone number do you dial to reach Europe?" Today, the area code for that number is clear: 32-2, for Brussels […].

And he adds:

Every European diplomat I spoke with was careful to insist that Europe's new generation of environmental directives is not intended to "impose" Europe's will upon the United States. Camilo Barcia Garcia-Villamil, the Spanish consul in San Francisco, who spent fifteen years working with the EU in Brussels, comments: "The European Union now has increased decision-making capacity. And if American companies want to be active in the European market, they must take account of European rules. We are not imposing our standards. We are making foreign companies respect our standards when they are in Europe."

Such an evolution might influence perceptions of the US abroad, and of the American perception of the problem.

That is less complicated than it sounds.

On one hand, the US might appear as less relevant to some, less all-powerful. On the other, Americans resenting the loss of importance might be tempted to conclude that anti-Americanism is growing.

That’s not necessarily the case, and still this is an essential shift that can’t be ignored.

What do you think?

Posted 12:52 PM | Comments (1)

February 23, 2005

U.S. Brands Threatened by Rising Anti-Americanism?

A couple of days ago I ran across mention of an article, "US Businesses Overseas Threatened by Rising Anti-Americanism" (also posted here under a different title), saying people around the world are increasingly avoiding brands perceived as "American" as a way of expressing discontent with the United States -- voting with their euros, pesos, and yen, as it were. Citing a recent poll by Seattle-based market research firm Global Market Insite, the article notes that sales for Marlboro and McDonalds were down in some countries, for example, and some German restaurants had stopped accepting American Express credit cards in a kind of reverse-Freedom-Fries phenomenon (see also this Reuters article from 2003). The story was also reported on by MSNBC, Time magazine, the Financial Times, and other media fixtures.

A look at the poll data itself, however, reveals that its results may be a little more complex. While it's true that 20 percent of Europeans and Canadians said they would boycott American products to protest U.S. foreign policy, the numbers don't seem too dire, on balance, for U.S. brands (although I haven't found data from previous years for comparison's sake). A significant majority of respondents, for example, said they "trust American companies." Similarly, solid majorities are also fond of American films and TV programs, "how Americans do business," and even "American multinational companies" (in this last category Americans themselves score lower than many countries: Mexicans, Japanese, Brazilians, Polish, Russians, Malaysians, Chinese, and Indians are all bigger fans of multinationals).

(More inside.)

U.S. corporations also get high marks for tsunami disaster relief efforts. (Although it should be noted that many of these questions are pretty leading. Example: Coca-Cola has provided bottled drinking water, basic foodstuffs, among other things to tsunami victims. Has this improved your image of the Coca-Cola brand? Is it really a surprise that the response was positive in three-quarters of the countries surveyed?)

Perhaps most interesting of all is this chart, which plots corporate brands according to how "American" they are perceived to be, and how likely respondents who said they would boycott American products were to avoid certain brands. Marlboro cigarettes seems to be the worst-off, perceived as "extremely American" by about 65 percent, with 60 percent promising to avoid purchasing the brand. Kodak, Visa, Kleenex, and Gillette fare the best, scoring in the low teens in both categories.

For an analysis of the chart, see this Daniel Gross column on Slate:

In the end, however, some of the rankings defy rational inquiry. How is that Jack Daniels, with its u-r-American name, is considered less American than German-sounding Budweiser? And some of the other results make me think that the people polled are just dumb. Chrysler, which polls in the danger zone as very American and unlikable, is owned by a European company!

Global Market Insite's news page has links to discussion of the poll in other news outlets.

Other, non-business questions in the survey are also interesting: The United States gets fair overall ratings; the American people score pretty high; American values, fair; and U.S. foreign policy and President Bush, predictably abysmal.

See also this previous discussion of U.S. brands flying the flag cautiously abroad.

Posted 04:30 PM | Comments (0)